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Campaigners warn Oxford-Cambridge Arc will see development 'the size of Birmingham'

Words: Huw Morris

Proposals to build a million homes in the Oxford-Cambridge Arc would result in  development on 27,000 hectares of greenfield and woodland – an area the size of Birmingham, according to countryside campaigners.

The government announced its preferred corridor for a new expressway between Oxford and Cambridge in September. The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), which backs the scheme, recommends building one million new homes in the arc by 2050.

The government is set to respond to this recommendation next week alongside the Budget.

But the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) says 230,000 homes are currently proposed or being built within the arc, with an increase of 330 per cent required to achieve the NIC’s recommendation. With capacity for just under 50,000 houses on previously developed or brownfield land within the arc, the vast majority of these new homes would be built on open countryside, says the CPRE.

Based on the average density of housing schemes being built within the arc, the CPRE claims 27,000 hectares of greenfield farmland and woodland – an area the size of Birmingham – could be developed.

Only 2,200 affordable homes are being built each year in the area, despite local authorities identifying a need for almost 12,000. If this shortfall continues, no more than 18 per cent of the need for affordable homes will be met during the planned period of growth.

“If given the green light, this development will change the face of England’s countryside forever,” says CPRE head of strategic plans devolution Paul Miner. “Yet no formal assessment of the environmental impact it will have has taken place. While there will be a need for genuine affordable housing to meet local need in the area, the scale of these proposals is completely unacceptable.

“Despite costing at least £5.5 billion in public money, there has been no formal public consultation around developing the arc. The lack of debate equates to a major, and troubling, democratic deficit at the heart of the proposals.

“Rather than taking a ‘growth at all costs’ approach, it is imperative that a Strategic Environmental Assessment is conducted. The assessment must look at the impacts of both the proposed housing and transport development on the countryside, people’s health and well-being, and climate change in a holistic manner. Critically, we need much stronger commitments to protecting and improving the unique and precious rural landscapes in the arc.”

The CPRE is calling for a public and parliamentary debate about whether the spending can be justified in an area already attractive to employers with a buoyant housing market. A failure to properly invest in other parts of the county would only serve to entrench the current imbalance in the economy, it adds.

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