The Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, has announced that the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway has been cancelled as analysis has shown that “the benefits the road would deliver are outweighed by its costs”. CPRE welcomes this decision which we and other campaigners have been pressing for ever since the project was 'paused' in March 2020. However, the decision appears to have been made on purely cost grounds and not environmental ones. We claimed that the environmental impacts would have been unacceptable, in terms of landscape, rural tranquillity, wildlife and loss of agricultural land as well as the climate change effects of increased road traffic. The Department, in its announcement, said “We will continue to work on more targeted, localised road improvements to boost transport in the region”. CPRE will be watching this very closely. The Milton Keynes to Black Cat section of the road already exists and the new section of the A428 from Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet will still be built across open countryside. 18th March 2021
Reaction to Policy Paper from Bedford Mayor Dave Hodgson
Mayor Hodgson welcomed the Policy Paper’s publication but said:
“It is good that the Government acknowledges some of the issues we face locally, especially the need for more and better infrastructure; the need to protect our environment; and the need to deal with deprivation. Sadly the document does not fully explore how these issues should be resolved. It is crucial that infrastructure improvements need to be delivered in advance of any additional growth, as we already have an infrastructure deficit that this document does not address.” Bedford Independent 22nd Feb 2021
Government publishes Policy Paper on Spatial Framework
Central Government has published a Paper on how it intends to go about preparing a Spatial Framework for the Arc. This will comprise plans for new and expanded settlements, transport and other infrastructure, economic development and environmental enhancement. Consultations on options and Strategic Environmental Assessment are promised. Note that the Paper concentrates on how the Framework will be developed: it is not the Framework itself. Consequently, the Paper does not identify specific locations for new or expanded settlements, although previous announcements have suggested areas for development corporations (locations where planning constraints may be relaxed).
Loss of ‘ordinary’ countryside and tranquillity; the impact on valued landscapes (not merely officially protected ones such as AONBs); and increase in light pollution
Loss of productive agricultural land, needed to increase sustainable, quality home-produced food
Likelihood of continued/ increased car dependency
Plans not coming forward from democratically-elected local authorities, who will be able to influence only the detail of implementation; instead we have a top-down approach
The Policy Paper talks much about ‘sustainable transport’ but does not give a commitment to widespread accessible and integrated public transport throughout the Arc
The proposals make it much harder, if not impossible, to meet our biodiversity and climate change commitments
The level of housing proposed is far in excess of what is needed to meet natural population growth, even allowing for economic expansion.
The sheer amount of housing is likely to attract commuters from further afield, especially London, increasing journey distances.
While ‘sustainable transport’ is frequently mentioned in the Policy Paper, it is clear there is no real commitment to public-transport-orientated development.
The proposal is not consistent with ‘levelling up’ the UK as continually quoted by the Government. It will largely serve to make an already prosperous area even more so. More priority should be given to investment in the urban areas of the northern and Midland regions which are desperate for regeneration and economic development. There appears to be no commitment to protect existing local rural communities which have their own identities from being overwhelmed (Milton Keynes is an example of this).
The indicative timetable is:
To develop a vision for the future of the Arc there will be a public consultation in the summer of 2021, following initial stakeholder engagement.
Options will be developed for turning the vision into policy, based on engagement and initial evidence gathering and analysis. MHCLG will publish these options for consultation in spring 2022.
MHCLG will consider responses to this consultation, and undertake spatial analysis, option testing, impact assessments and stakeholder engagement. The Government will publish a draft spatial framework for consultation in autumn 2022, with implementation of the final framework shortly afterwards.
The Policy Paper can be viewed at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/planning-for-sustainable-growth-in-the-oxford-cambridge-arc-spatial-framework/planning-for-sustainable-growth-in-the-oxford-cambridge-arc-an-introduction-to-the-spatial-framework. 18th Feb 2021.
New settlements between Bedford and Cambridge
The housing ministry has revealed plans to ‘engage with communities’ in the spring and early summer of 2021 on the development of up to four new or expanded settlements between Bedford and Cambridge, reported Planning, 9th Feb 2021. This should not come as a total surprise, as the Government had already suggested in the March 2020 Budget that development corporations were likely to be established for Milton Keynes, Bedford, St Neots and Cambourne, giving a clue as to where some of the new or expanded settlements might be. What we do not yet know is whether the consultation will cover a number of options which will subsequently be narrowed down or whether the sites will already have been decided. Do not assume, however, that west of Milton Keynes will be let off the hook. Watch this space.
Milton Keynes Expansion Plans
Milton Keynes Council’s ‘MK Futures 50’ plans massive house expansion and population increase. MPs Iain Stewart and Ben Everitt support new housing to meet local demand; however they believe the plans will place too great a strain on local services and infrastructure, and will damage the environment. They also believe it will undermine the basic structure of the town. Milton Keynes Council have drawn up plans to expand the town beyond the Council’s boundaries to reach neighbouring towns. These include Buckingham, Leighton Buzzard and Northampton. The population is also set to reach 500,000 by 2050, doubling the population in 30 years.
The MPs have highlighted the need for affordable housing in Milton Keynes to be addressed before the city is expanded. Iain Stewart, MP for Milton Keynes South, said: “Any plans for new housing must be thought through carefully and be made in conjunction with our neighbours as part of a wider Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge corridor. We have over 20,000 unbuilt new houses already agreed. Why are we not concentrating on building those, and then taking time to think about what additional housing might be needed in the long-term? New homes should be built to support economic growth and not simply to meet an artificial number.” Alex Walker, Leader of MK Conservative Councillors, added: “The extent of MK Council's expansion plans are reckless and will destroy all we love about Milton Keynes.” MK FM radio, Jan 23rd 2021.
England's Economic Heartland has announced that “In 2021 we will see the first two of our programme of connectivity studies getting underway. The studies will be focused on the area between Oxford and Milton Keynes, and the corridor between Peterborough, Northampton and Oxford.” Even assuming that these will be multi-modal studies (and better than the discredited multi-modal studies of the late 1990s), the prospect of the ghost of the Expressway may yet reappear. And given that there is no rail link between Peterborough, Northampton and Oxford, one wonders what might be recommended here. CPRE will be represented on the 'Influencers' Group' for these studies. 16th Dec 2020.
Buckinghamshire Council withdraws from Arc Leaders' Group
Leader of Buckinghamshire Council, Cllr Martin Tett, said:
“Buckinghamshire Council, along with the Buckinghamshire Local Enterprise Partnership and the University of Buckingham, have withdrawn from the Oxford to Cambridge 'ARC Leaders' Group'. As a new unitary council, Buckinghamshire wishes to be in control of its own future economic development and housing decisions, rather than potentially have these imposed upon it by votes from other areas as far away as Corby and the Fenlands. We also wish to support our businesses develop opportunities wherever they occur, rather than be confined within an artificial geography such as the ARC. We wish the very best to those councils who wish to remain within the ARC Leaders Group, and we will continue to cooperate with them on a case by case basis." Oct 2020.
We support Buckinghamshire Council's decision and call upon other local authorities to follow suit in order to restore local democracy to this process. This does not mean to say, however, that Buckinghamshire will not have unwelcome development thrust upon it by Government central planners against its will.
If you share our concerns, please join us. How you can help. Challenge the Arc!
Challenge the Arc! Contact us by clicking here.
Oxford - Milton Keynes - Bedford - Cambridge - Arc