On 12 September 2018, the Government announced its preferred corridor for a new expressway between Oxford and Cambridge. Plans include the construction of one million new houses along its length.

The decision has been made behind closed doors based on recommendations from Highways England which consulted with a select group of landowners, colleges and local authorities. There has been no proper assessment of the environmental impacts of the scheme and no consultation with the general public. Regular people will get to comment only on some of the finer details in 2019. The question about whether the South East needs a new expressway at all has never been asked.

The “rationale”

Economic Growth

Taking his cue from Highways England, former Road Minister, Jesse Norman, argued that a new Expressway is vital to “unlock“ economic growth in the South East, helping to deliver one million new homes.

But why concentrate further growth in the South East? We already have the densest population in the UK, huge demand on land, very high levels of congestion and worrying stresses on our water supply.

Meanwhile, estimates suggest that the Expressway will cost the taxpayer around £4bn. It is heartening to know that the Department for Transport is awash with public money, but spending it in a relatively wealthy South East makes little sense. In terms of wealth distribution, the UK is the most unequal of the ten Northern European countries, with six out of ten of the poorest regions of Northern Europe being in the UK. A recent and damning UN report on UK poverty and human rights states that 14 million people – one fifth of the country’s population – live in poverty.  That £4bn would surely be better spent in regions that need it.

Instead, there appears to be a vague idea that, if growth is encouraged in the South East, the tax base will grow and the money gained from this could be used to invest elsewhere – at some point. But waiting potentially decades for some possible return is not sensible. The deeply worrying structural problems in our society ought to be tackled now.

Rather than do this, the Government seems hell-bent on perpetuating an affluent, environmentally damaged and overcrowded South-East that sucks in talent and investment, while the rest of the country is left to fill Amazon orders and clean second homes. High Speed Two was intended to rebalance the UK economy. The Oxford-Cambridge Corridor appears designed to do the opposite. If the Government is going to spend vast sums of public money on infrastructure projects, it could at least do it consistently.

In the meantime, new revised projections for household growth provided by the Office for National Statistics show that housing demand will be 17% lower in the SE and in East of England (i.e. the Cambridge end) (Planning, 28 September 2018, p8).


If the economic argument doesn’t stand up, what of the arguments about improved “connectivity”? Jesse Norman states that the proposed Expressway “fills a major gap in the national road network”.

But connectivity between Oxford and Cambridge was supposed to be enhanced by the East-West rail-link, wasn’t it? Ah, but the minister has this covered. A new Expressway will help to reduce “the risk of car dependence“. It will “work together with the proposed East West Rail link to revolutionise east-west connectivity.”

What the Government has in mind?

The Expressway is sometimes referred to as “the missing link”. BEAG suggests that the missing link is actually the one in the Government’s chain of logic.

If connectivity between Oxford and Cambridge is a problem, rather than build a new motorway at public expense, why not do something about the cost of public travel? Between 1980 and 2016, the cost of bus and coach travel rose by 64% and rail travel by 63%, despite a small drop in 2016. By contrast, the cost of travelling by car has decreased by 20%. (For a detailed report on the figures.)

Does the knowledge economy have to get in a car?

Building a new road is not a twenty-first century response to the issue of connectivity. It is surely possible that the government could find a less environmentally harmful approach. For example, one that doesn’t belong in the 1970s.

Climate Matters

Given that the UK Government is supposed to be committed to reducing the UK’s carbon footprint, it is perverse that a huge sum of public money is being offered to provide a car-based alternative to travelling by rail.

In June 2019, the 2008 Climate Change Act was amended to commit the UK to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.  Transport emissions account for around a quarter of the UK’s emissions today. So, building a new expressway and one million new houses (which will themselves have significant effects on travel demand) only adds to the scale of the challenge, making it hugely difficult to meet the new requirements of the Act.

By law, projects of this size should be subject to a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). Yet the Government announced its preferred option without commissioning an SEA, bypassing the proper process. Bear in mind that an SEA would have scrutinised the environmental impacts of the various options in detail – giving local communities sight of the impacts on climate, and on people and wildlife. Perhaps the Government is scared that the findings of an SEA could scupper its plans.

In October 2018, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that we have just 12 years to avert climate catastrophe (read about it here). The IPCC’s team of scientists warn than action must be taken right now to reduce the risk of extreme heat, floods, climate-related poverty for millions of people and massive loss of biodiversity. The team did not recommend building new Expressways as a way out of the crisis.

The national office of the Campaign to Protect Rural England is calling for a full Parliamentary Select Committee Inquiry into the proposals, as well as an SEA, stating:

At a time when we desperately need to prioritise investment in sustainable travel options, it makes no sense to lock in carbon emissions, air pollution and car-dependency, for decades to come.

CPRE Bucks Response?

CPRE Bucks have said that they oppose the OxCam Expressway and Arc in principle. For more information, please contact them.

The Government is well aware of this report, yet is apparently still committed to unlimited economic growth, laughably referred to as “sustainable”. Growing economies demand more and more non-renewable resources, especially oil. Meanwhile, climate scientists know that burning fossil fuels causes global temperatures to rise. None of this is difficult to understand. Yet, just days after the IPCC’s report, Chancellor Philip Hammond’s budget pledged to throw £30 billion at road building. He also promised a £3 billion tax break to oil and gas companies. He didn’t mention climate change once.

Building a new expressway and one million houses is the exact opposite of the actions we should be taking. The plans are not only backward, but reckless. The Government is operating on a wing and a prayer.

“Dear God/Invisible Hand/Spirit of Friedrich Hayek,
May our quest for endless economic growth somehow coexist with a viable future for the world’s living systems and the people who depend on them. We have no idea how this might happen, but the economy works in mysterious ways.
PS: Don’t worry if you’ve got too much on; it’s not such a big deal.” (George Monbiot, “Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis”, Verso – London 2017).

Impacts on Wildlife

If the Government isn’t concerned about climate change, does it give a hoot about our wildlife and countryside?
You guessed it.

While the preferred route avoids the Otmoor nature reserve in Oxfordshire, the Expressway will nevertheless devastate huge tracts of wildlife-supporting countryside in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, including Bernwood Forest and the Otmoor Basin.

Road planners generally seek to avoid designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), which are protected in law. The upshot is that supposedly “ordinary” countryside is simply regarded as a blank canvas on which to stick development. Yet, many areas that aren’t designated SSSIs possess an abundance of wildlife that far exceeds those designations.

As Mark Vallance, reserves manager for the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) put it: Wildlife doesn’t do postcodes…

(From BBOWT’s website – read the full article here).

…the area east of Oxford is characterised by a mosaic of ancient woodlands, species-rich grassland, open water, scrub and hedgerows, which form part of the former Royal Hunting Forest of Bernwood. It is one of the most undisturbed and wildlife-rich areas of Buckinghamshire. Upper Ray Valley and ancient woodlands in the vicinity of Calvert, including Finemere Wood, would also be at risk.

As one local resident says…

…North Bucks, in particular, is being “dumped on“:

We’ve got HS2, an incinerator, east-west rail and then Milton Keynes and Bicester becoming cities. Green and pleasant land, eh? It will be tarmac everywhere.

The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) advised Highways England that Corridor B, now the preferred option, was by far the most environmentally damaging of the three potential corridors. BBOWT was clear: as well as 20 nature reserves and 51 SSSIs, 345 local wildlife sites would be adversely affected. In view of this, BBOWT called for a Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA), a legal requirement for schemes this size. Highways England ignored them.

The national office of the Campaign to Protect Rural England agreed, stating that the preferred option…

…will be particularly damaging because it crosses tranquil, unspoilt countryside, threatening characterful villages and many important wildlife sites. The lack of meaningful public consultation to date means that local communities are facing an unwanted road that will also increase traffic and pollution.

Government’s failure to carry out an SEA, left the public unable to scrutinise the environmental impacts of the various options. BBOWT launched a legal based on this failing. Estelle Bailey, BBOWT’s chief executive said: We’re going to challenge it every step of the way.

Sadly, BBOWT lost its case. Along with the RSPB and the Woodland Trust, BBOWT now supports the principles published in the document Nature’s Arc. Meanwhile, like the world over, the UK is experiencing frightening losses of biodiversity. Actually, is it correct to say that we’re experiencing “losses” ? Chris Packham doesn’t think so:

(From A People’s Manifesto)

…to our shame, we are careless with our language. We say that ‘we’ve lost 97% of our flower rich meadows since the 1930s’ or that ‘we’ve lost 86% of the Corn Bunting population.’ We speak of ‘a loss of 97% of our Hedgehogs.’ Loss, lost… as if this habitat and these species have mysteriously disappeared into the ether, as if they’ve accidentally vanished. But they haven’t – they’ve been destroyed.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently published its Living Planet Report report. It makes uncomfortable reading.  Destruction of mammals, fish, birds, amphibians and reptiles averaged 60% between 1970 and 2014, according to the report. And the cause? An “explosion” of consumerism over that period. The WWF is calling for urgent intergovernmental action to stop a mass extinction of biodiversity.

Buckinghamshire is a wonderful county, with a huge wealth of wildlife and beauty in it, and it has to be protected.” (BBOWT, June 2019).

In this short film, made with BEAG in 2019, the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust explained the irreversible harm that the OxCam Expressway and “growth arc” would cause to the richness of wildlife and beauty in Bucks – and why biodiversity offsetting is a sham.

If anyone is wondering why the mass extinction of biodiversity matters, the UK Government can explain:

(From UK Biodiversity Indicators)

…biodiversity matters because it supports the vital benefits we get from the natural environment. It contributes to our economy, our health and wellbeing, and it enriches our lives.

BEAG agrees. So why spend £4 billion on a scheme that will rip up huge areas of sensitive, wildlife-rich sites?

Democratic Deficit

The demand for a new Expressway and “growth corridor” initially came from the unelected National Infrastructure Commission. It is now being promoted by similarly unelected bureaucrats at Highways England. There has been no consultation with members of the public, and no proper environmental assessment required by law.

Meanwhile, the way the scheme has been developed so far is also undermining the local plan process. For example, the Vale of Aylesbury Local Plan (VALP), which has found room for 28,000 new houses, has already been through the hearing stage. But now, the Planning Inspector appears to require that the council increase the proposed submission housing allocation to allow for the growth that the government wants to see in the Arc. So here is central government telling a local council to arbitrarily increase its housing allocation, with no semblance of public scrutiny, to meet some aspirational growth around a road whose actual route hasn’t even been decided yet. This completely bypasses the plan-led system and makes a real sham of whatever limited local democracy we are allowed.

To their credit, planners at Aylesbury Vale District Council have written back, politely enough, to say that allocating sites to please the Government isn’t how planning is supposed to work. Quite right. This isn’t China.


What you can do

The Government, landowners and developers and other supporters of the scheme want you to think that the Expressway and “growth corridor” is inevitable.

Don’t let them convince you. It’s not a done deal.

Take action to help safeguard our countryside, wildlife and wider environment – not only for us but for future generations.

Some actions will take just a few minutes, some will take a bit longer, while others could take a few hours. Choose something that you can manage.

Suggested actions to choose from include:

  • Writing to Highways England to register your opposition. Email: OxfordtoCambridgeExpressway@highwaysengland.co.uk
  • Writing to your MP. Or finding out where and what time their surgery is open and going to speak to them
  • Contacting your local councillors – both in your local planning authority, and in your parish – asking them to hold a meeting with local residents to hear their views
  • Writing to your local paper
  • Signing this petition
  • Checking BEAG’s news and events page for details of meetings, or other items
  • Going to meetings you see advertised here or elsewhere, if you can
  • Making a list of five people who you think could help influence decision makers, and/or who you think can help spread the word, then contacting them
  • Buying (and wearing) a No Expressway T-shirt
  • Following BEAG on Twitter @BEAG_Tweets
  • Sharing the link to this website on social media

Put your best foot forward… like this concerned citizen did…

You’re never too young (or too old) to add your voice to something that you know isn’t right !
Join the debate and make a change.
(With thanks to Otto.)


If you’ve got any videos or photographs regarding the Expressway that you’re happy to share, please consider emailing us using the contact form below.

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About BEAG

The Buckinghamshire Expressway Action Group (BEAG) was formed by local residents in September 2018 in opposition to the Expressway and its associated “growth corridor” (one million new houses). We love our local countryside and we value the wildlife it supports. We believe strongly in democracy.

We object to the fact that decisions on the preferred route of the Expressway were made by bureaucrats behind closed doors. We object to the fact that, if built, the scheme will cause massive and permanent harm to the natural and historic environment. We object to the fact that no proper environmental assessment of the likely impacts of the scheme has ever been carried out.

BEAG is part of the No Expressway Alliance. Like BEAG, NEA objects to the plans in principle, and welcomes supporters from all walks of life.

If you’d like to support BEAG, please email info@beag.org.uk or contact us from here…