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26/02/2021

Climate and community need to be at the heart of government’s Arc plans

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Oxford / iStock: 469617533

The government must put sustainability first in its plans for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc and encourage local authorities and their development partners to bring communities along as part of the planning process, says Alex Robinson

The government’s ambitious plans for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc are a vital step forward in unlocking the region’s potential, recognising the role it can play in Britain’s post-Covid recovery. The spatial framework expected to be published next year will give certainty for development and encourage investment to flow in – possibly up to £20 billion of it, according to estimates from Bidwells.

It’s a good start but two elements need to be central to the plan if it is to be successful. 

First, climate action must be a cornerstone for development in the Arc. A coordinated framework gives an opportunity to set new standards on carbon reduction, biodiversity and sustainable transport – proving that urban development and renewal does not need to be at the expense of the environment. Making these commitments from the outset will help local authorities and their delivery partners to shape local plans and site masterplans with sustainability in mind.

It’s a model we implemented successfully at our Trumpington Meadows scheme – a 1,200-home community to the south of Cambridge. Acting as a master developer, we put the natural environment at the heart of our plans. We invested in green infrastructure upfront for a new nature reserve and country park, working with the Wildlife Trusts to ensure the meadows would support wildlife habitats as well as being an asset for local people.

"Climate action must be a cornerstone for development in the Arc. A coordinated framework gives an opportunity to set new standards on carbon reduction, biodiversity and sustainable transport"

By planning ahead and taking the time to consult closely with the Trusts, we have now delivered a 43 per cent biodiversity net gain and a fantastic place for the community to enjoy the great outdoors – something much in demand during the pandemic. Many of these principles of environmental development are now part of the joint local plan being brought forward by South Cambridgeshire and Cambridge City councils.

That brings me to my second point: development in the Arc must be done in collaboration with people already living and working in the region. The government’s overarching framework allows for a strategic and aligned approach to economic growth, but this bold vision shouldn’t lose sight of what matters to individual communities. They need to see the benefits of change, to avoid people turning against what could feel like a national imposition.

A positive approach to engagement must flow through the framework’s implementation, starting before the local plan process and running through to the creation of site-specific plans. This will ensure that regional ambitions are mapped against local priorities – whether that’s new homes, the regeneration of high streets or a reimagining of existing urban areas after Covid. Honest, open conversation is vital, including discussion around the inevitable trade-offs that come with every development.

The government has responded to the development industry’s calls to radically rethink how planning decisions are made in the Arc. Let’s help it to keep going, using this as an opportunity to show what good strategic planning can look like in the 21 st century, backing ambitious climate targets and setting a new benchmark for community consultation.

Alex Robinson is director of development for strategic land at Grosvenor Britain & Ireland

Photo | iStock

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