Despite the Transport Secretary's recent cancellation of the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway, the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, an area between the two University cities that crosses Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, remains on the Government's agenda as an area for economic and technological development.
As arguably one of the most nature-depleted areas of a country that is one of the most nature-depleted in the world, we remain concerned about the potential scale and nature of the proposed development. Unless planned properly with nature in mind from the outset, the OxCam Arc proposals could provide a major threat to the wildlife that we do still have, and they raise broader sustainability concerns too. The Cambridge end of the Arc is highly water stressed, with abstraction from aquifers already unsustainable, and even at the western end of the Arc there have long been proposals for new reservoirs to supply Oxford, Swindon and London.
The Government have, thankfully, backed away from the National Infrastructure Commission’s original proposals that the area could accommodate up to a million additional homes. However, there is still an aim to push for increased development linked to the new East-West Rail proposals, particularly between Bedford and Cambridge.
At this stage, they are consulting the public before developing a new Strategic Framework for the Arc. The consultation is rather limited, and we are working with the Woodland Trust and the RSPB to provide support for our collective members who may want to respond to the consultation.
We are particularly disappointed that the consultation does not refer to the shared regional principles for protecting, restoring and enhancing the environment in the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, developed and published in March 2021 with a wide range of conservation partners and supported by most council leaders across the Arc, LEPs and the Arc Universities. To date the Westminster Government has not supported them, and the Environment Principles are conspicuous in their absence from the consultation.
We are looking for assurances that existing development pressures, let alone any additional proposals, truly respect the environmental limits of the area, and that the ambition for the natural environment matches that for economic environment, with a “doubling nature” target embedded in any strategy for the region.
The consultation deadline is the 12th October, and we will be asking our supporters to respond to the consultation over the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can see the consultation here, and the supporting paperwork here. As well as responding to the broader consultation, Trust staff will be responding to the scoping report for the sustainability appraisal.