Transport in the Arc
Alongside massive development plans, we would expect to see careful thought given to sustainable transport. We should be looking to improve, not worsen, existing congestion and air pollution. But so far, it has been business as usual … The aim of proposals to date have been to make it easier for people to commute over longer distances. Instead, we should prioritise ways of reducing the need to travel, building on recent trends whereby more people have been working from home.
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 and not environmental grounds. We claimed that the environmental impacts would have been unacceptable, in terms of landscape, rural tranquillity, wildlife, loss of valuable agricultural land and community severance as well as the climate change effects of increased traffic attracted to the new road. 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 Expressway would have taken the form of a dual carriageway on a completely new route across open countryside between Oxford and Milton Keynes. The A421 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 and close to rural villages in Cambridgeshire. 18th March 2021
The transport spine of the Arc will be East-West Rail (EWR), extending from Oxford to Cambridge, reopening a railway route that was closed in the 1960s. The Oxford-Bicester section is already open and Bicester-Milton Keynes is under construction. The purpose of this railway is primarily to provide connectivity between the principal towns and cities en route, rather than to provide the fastest possible transit between Oxford and Cambridge, although that journey will be speeded up as well. We support EWR in principle, as it will improve connectivity by closing a gap in public transport provision across the area and potentially take traffic off the roads, but this support is subject to a satisfactory routeing east of Bedford. Our anxiety is also that the area around proposed stations will attract major new housing developments.
EWR has launched a public consultation on the next phase. This includes:
proposed level crossing closures between Bicester and Bedford with replacement bridges in some cases
proposed station closures and/or relocation on the existing Marston Vale line between Bletchley and Bedford
revised track layout at Bedford
the route to be taken east of Bedford
a new station at Tempsford or St Neots South, where EWR will provide interchange with Great Northern services between Peterborough and London
whether the proposed Cambourne station should be located north or south of the new settlement
a new junction in the Hauxton/Harston area
The consultation can be found at https://eastwestrail.co.uk/consultation. The deadline for comments is 9th June 2021.
Other road projects are likely to be proposed in due course, as a result of a ‘first mile/ last mile’ study being undertaken. We do not necessarily expect to oppose all these schemes: some local bypasses, for example, can provide much-needed relief to villages. But we are concerned that road improvements always result in an increase in traffic (and therefore pollution and emissions) as well as having a negative impact on wildlife and the countryside.xfod - Milton Keynes - Cambridge - Arc - Expressway - East-West Rail
England’s Economic Heartland
Meanwhile, a body called ‘England’s Economic Heartland’ (EEH) is setting itself up to be the sub-national transport authority for the region (including some areas outside the Arc). EEH has produced a Transport Strategy which, after public consultation, is being submitted to Government for approval.
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Oxford Cambridge Arc Transport