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
East-West Rail (EWR) has rebranded itself as the East West Main Line Partnership. It is not clear what a mere change of name will achieve, but it will nevertheless be the transport spine of the Arc, 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 glaring 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 and through Cambridgeshire. This part of the route has proved to be is locally controversial. Our anxiety is also that the areas around the proposed EWR stations will attract major new housing developments.
EWR has already held a public consultation on the next phase. This included, inter alia, the route to be taken east of Bedford and whether the proposed Cambourne station should be located north or south of the new settlement. In a change of policy from that previously stated, EWR is now championing both electrification of the line from the outset and provision for freight. 7th Oct 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.
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