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Government wants growth body to support OxCam Arc

Words: Laura Edgar
Oxford-Cambridge Arc / Rainer Lesniewski, Shutterstock_271990589

Housing minister Christopher Pincher has announced the government‘s intention to establish an ‘arc growth body’ to support the Oxford-Cambridge Arc’s development into a ‘a global innovation powerhouse’.

This forms part of the government’s plans to produce a spatial framework in 2022.

The framework would be aimed at creating jobs, driving investment, protecting and enhancing the environment and delivering infrastructure across the arc, which spans Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.

According to a government document entitled Planning for Sustainable Growth in the OxfordCambridge Arc, the arc is constrained by “inadequate infrastructure, a stressed and fragmented natural environment, escalating housing costs, and complex local governance”. The framework is an opportunity to develop a plan that will:

  • Support long-run sustainable economic growth across the area.
  • Help to make the area a brilliant place to live, work and travel in – for existing residents and future communities alike.
  • Support lasting improvements to the environment, green infrastructure and biodiversity.

The government intends to plan for the “right level” of growth. The framework will identify:

  • The most sustainable locations for new homes, including identifying opportunity areas, to support local planning authorities to plan for this growth.
  • The infrastructure needed to support sustainable growth in those locations, and the key locations for strategic infrastructure to support sustainable growth.
  • Locations for environmental enhancement to achieve greater environmental benefits that can allow development to take place elsewhere.

In addition, the framework will set out policies to enable new settlements to come forward at the scale and speed needed and new development to support habitat recovery, delivery of local nature recovery strategies, and provision of good-quality green space within schemes. Also included will be policies to enable brownfield redevelopment and densification, as well as the expansion of existing settlements, in sustainable locations. It will also set out the housing needs, including affordable housing, to be met.

The government highlights that by 2050 economic output could double to over £200 billion, given the right interventions and investment.

Pincher said: “The Oxford-Cambridge Arc is already home to world-leading economic, cultural and scientific assets.

“We know, for instance, Cambridge’s rate of patent applications – a key indicator of innovation – is the highest in the United Kingdom, while nearby Milton Keynes is the fastest-growing city in the country.

“We want to take this region to the next phase of its renaissance by unlocking its full potential and our plans will drive investment where it is needed and ensure, as growth happens, we create well-designed, inclusive and vibrant places and communities.

"The OxCam spatial framework will allow us to plan positively for growth and we look forward to working with our local partners over the coming months to strengthen our vision and approach to the arc.”

The document states that over the next two-and-a-half years a specialist team in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) will “work with communities and local partners to develop a robust, evidence-based spatial framework”.

The indicative timeline is:

  • Develop a vision for the future of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc: A consultation with the public engagement will be undertaken in summer 2021.
  • Towards a spatial framework: Develop options for turning the vision into policy, based on engagement and initial evidence gathering and analysis. MHCLG will publish these options for consultation in spring 2022.
  • Draft spatial framework: To finalise the framework, MHCLG will consider responses to this consultation, and undertake spatial analysis, option testing, impact assessments and stakeholder engagement. It will publish a draft spatial framework for consultation in autumn 2022, with implementation of the final framework shortly after.

Barry Wood, chair of The Arc Leaders Group and leader of Cherwell District Council, said: “We welcome the continuing commitment from government to the Oxford to Cambridge Arc through today’s announcements.

“We look forward to working together with local people and our local partners to deliver an economy that works for all, underpinned by a high-quality natural environment. This will include planning for and enabling development that is truly inclusive and sustainable which delivers real benefits for our communities and environment now and in the future.”


Rachel Dickie, executive director, investment, at Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, commented: “This new planning framework needs to be ambitious not only in delivering homes and jobs, but on climate action. A coordinated plan creates an opportunity to establish and implement new standards on carbon reduction, biodiversity and sustainable transport – proving that urban development and growth does not need to be at the expense of the environment.

“The other focus for development in the arc must be on building trust with local people. The risk with regional strategies is that they leave individual communities without a voice. That needs to be addressed head-on in these plans, through a positive approach to engagement that aligns regional ambitions with priorities for individual communities – whether that’s new homes, the regeneration of high streets or a reimagining of our cities after Covid.”

Mike Derbyshire, head of planning at Bidwells, said: “In our Radical Regeneration Manifesto we set out the need for clarity across the whole region on what kind of development was needed. We successfully delivered the 2012 Olympics because we avoided local political squabbling and had a clear vision for the redevelopment of East London. We need the same and this announcement goes a long way to helping that become reality.

“We’ve been encouraged in recent months by government’s approach to the arc and it’s clear they have listened to the development industry. Bringing forward the framework at pace – as MHCLG intend to – will start to build the momentum the arc needs but it must be a green strategy and an exemplary in its approach to sustainable transport, placemaking and economic growth.”

Robbie Owen, partner at Pinsent Masons, commented: “These latest announcements of a policy paper and an Arc Growth Body reinforce why the arc is such an important national economic and sustainable growth priority area but there are plenty of potential legal pitfalls in the roadmap that government will now be considering – one of which relates to three separate consultations that are planned over the next 18 months.

"These will need to be informed and supported by a full Sustainability Appraisal and a Habitats Regulations Assessment and also underpinned by an Equalities Impact Assessment. But, the standards for lawful and effective consultations are high and the challenge for government is that it is just not used to consulting and enabling ongoing engagement on proposals like these covering housing, infrastructure and transport requirements which are both spatial in nature and also cover an entire region – this presents huge challenges which government will need to work very hard to address effectively if it is to avoid getting bogged down in a long series of legal challenges and so that it delivers on best practice.”

Steven Charlton, principal and managing director at Perkins&Will, said: “The scale of the opportunity here is vast but it requires strategic thinking and ministers are doing precisely the right thing by thinking big, utilising data and working to harvest investment that is queuing up to fund life sciences and build labs.

“Our work to analyse investment and scale-ups across the region shows there are unprecedented opportunities to create jobs and spread out the recovery across cities like Milton Keynes and Norwich.”

Planning for sustainable growth in the OxfordCambridge Arc can be found on the UK Government website.

Image credit | Rainer Lesniewski, Shutterstock