While the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway appears to be paused, the Government is still pushing on with its plans for major infrastructure developments within the so-called “Arc”, an area covering Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire (around 4,500 square miles).
The vision is to stimulate rapid economic growth in the area through the construction of industrial and business complexes, new roads and building hundreds of thousands of houses.
On the 18th February 2021, the Government released a press statement outlining its ambitions to transform the area into an economic “powerhouse”, which you can read here.
The Arc, the Government urges, will require a new “spacial framework” to ensure that businesses, industry and house-builders have the space and infrastructure they need in the area to grow. Heralding what looks like a new planning authoritarianism, local planning authorities within the Arc will be “supported” in allocating suitable high-growth zones, though there appears to be little choice about opting out.
In an apparent attempt to deal with the fact that stimulating white hot growth in five counties that have high levels of prosperity is not exactly fair, there is a reference to “levelling up” areas of inequality within the Arc itself. This hardly amounts to rebalancing the UK economy, something that the Government has previously said is a priority.
Meanwhile, it is is keen to persuade us that – in a way never before seen! – super-charged economic growth within the Arc will be matched by environmental protections and enhancements. Given the scale of the Arc and the concrete and tarmac that will be poured over farmland, heritage and wildlife, how could this be possible?
It really isn’t clear. The Government’s enthusiasm for the Arc considerably outweighs the detail on mitigation. There is also scant detail of what the Arc will actually involve in terms of infrastructure development, or house-building (though figures of 1–1.5 million have been mentioned).
Are there reasons to be cheerful?
Yes. Serious questions are now being asked, in particular, about the need to “build, build, build”, more houses. For far too long there has been a widely held assumption – across the political spectrum – that the housing crisis is one of shortage. But as Nick Bano (a barrister who specialises in housing and homelessness cases) has recently argued:
Not only is the analytical evidence stacked against the ‘build more housing’ thinking, but it is actually difficult to find factual evidence in favour of its basic arguments. … Why build more housing when there is already a surplus equal to five times the homeless population?
He adds, “the call to build more housing is not a call that serves our interests (let alone the interests of the environment).”
The full article is here.
In addition, community campaigners across the country are raising the glaring issue of the climate emergency and the UK’s commitment to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. There are currently numerous legal challenges to large-scale development projects, such as airport expansion plans, the DfT’s £27 billion road-building scheme and, more locally, the release of greenbelt land in Oxfordshire. In the context of the climate emergency, and the Government’s legal obligations, plans for a Silicon Valley in the South East look ridiculous – and wide open to challenge.
Local elections 2021
Local elections in Bucks will take place on Thursday 6th May. A total of 147 councillors will be elected with 49 wards electing 3 councillors each.
Find out about the candidates in your area and their views about the Arc. Vote accordingly.