Expressway “paused” but…

You might have heard that, following last week’s budget, the Expressway has been paused. Indeed it has, but only while the government considers alternative roads to deliver the Oxford-Cambridge Arc – massive growth in the South East. This seems to have been what the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, had in mind when he promised a review of the Expressway.

The vision includes creating four new Development Corporations that will accelerate over-development in the area. Members of Development Corporations are appointed by the government, and operate outside of the Town and Country Planning System. In other words, the government is seeking to bypass local planning authorities and local democratic processes.

Greg Smith, MP for Buckingham, has said that none of the proposed Development Corporations will be in Bucks. He has also stated that he will fight hard to stop over-development in Bucks itself. BEAG thinks that he means this. We met him at the Westminster event organised by the No Expressway Group on the 26 February 2020, and he really does appear to be on side. But perhaps he hasn’t been following the news. South Oxfordshire local authority has recently been coerced by Robert Jenrick, the government’s Housing minister into accepting a local plan that will see huge housing developments sprawling over designated green belt land in the area. The local plan is deeply unpopular with communities and elected representatives alike, but visions of growth have plainly trumped the principles of localism. Buckinghamshire’s new unitary authority, and Greg Smith should take note: what the government wants, the government gets.

Or maybe not. The recent judgment that the policy underpinning expansion at Heathrow is not in line with the UK’s obligations under the Paris Agreement is highly significant. It puts climate matters at centre stage, increasing the likelihood of legal challenges to large infrastructure projects, such as the Expressway and Arc. It is, in other words, a potential game changer, because hugely environmentally damaging infrastructure projects are not an intelligent response to the climate emergency. Chris Packham, one of the founders of Wild Justice, has been quick to work this out, and has launched a legal challenge on climate grounds to HS2.

So, we are encouraged, and will carry on campaigning for environmental justice and plain common sense. We hope that you will continue to support us and the No Expressway Group.