Rob Hopwood, planning partner at planning consultants Bidwells, discusses the Oxford-Cambridge Arc and highlights the key priorities for realising the area’s potential as a major economic powerhouse for the UK
The Oxford-Cambridge Arc has been identified as the location for significant new infrastructure, real estate development and regeneration with the potential to become, according to the government, “an economic asset of international standing” – but how can such large-scale development be “green”?
An area bookended by the academic and knowledge-centred powerhouses of the two oldest universities in the UK, the arc spans an area of over 100 miles and encompasses places such as Milton Keynes, Peterborough and Northampton. The region has been singled out as the location for one million new homes as well as new road and rail links, making it an area of immense potential for economic growth.
Bidwells has always been a huge promoter of growth across the arc, and while the UK government is planning for large-scale development throughout the region, alternative visions for the arc, such as the Wildlife Trust’s 100 Miles Wilder initiative, are being developed.
In October, there was a discussion on how we can unlock the future potential of the arc. Hosting panellists from Cranfield University, the Wildlife Trust and Countryside, we discussed how a plan could encompass ecological and sustainable goals without stifling economic growth.
Although each panellist had competing priorities, there were four universally popular points that came from this discussion.
Although there are strong benefits to developing across the arc, from better infrastructure and housing to greater access to green space, the wider advantages of greener economic growth, such as the impacts of positive health and wellbeing for those in the area, is a clear reason why working together would be more beneficial in the long-term.
Strategic spatial planning
For the arc to succeed as an economic powerhouse, there must be a strategic spatial plan. This will include better integration of land use policies, evaluation of existing brownfield sites, designation of certain areas for natural protection, biodiversity and highlighting other areas for housing and infrastructure development.
There is a strong need for coherent governance across various levels. Overall strategic management across the wider area, which brings in the various stakeholders such as local organisations and authorities, would allow for longevity of delivery and provide a clear vision for the arc.
Alongside this, a shareable and agreed baseline data set and framework, which allows for the evaluation of progress across various aims, is high on the list of priorities.
Policy and strategy
To provide early certainty, there is a need for a clear policy and strategy across the arc region. This is vital for leveraging private investment, which in turn will lead to greater forward linear development.
Situating these local developments within both a bigger picture and on a national scale is a vital organising principle when planning large-scale development across a wide area, such as the regeneration of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.
About the Oxford-Cambridge Arc
- It is already home to 3.7m people and currently supports over 2m jobs, contributing £111bn of annual GVA to the UK economy.
- It covers four county councils (Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire), 21 district councils, five unitary authorities, four Local Enterprise Partnerships.
- The arc is home to 10 universities, including two of the world’s most internationally recognised centres of learning, the University of Oxford and University of Cambridge, as well as universities with specialisms in areas such as automotive and aerospace engineering.
- The arc’s historic assets include Blenheim Palace World Heritage Site, 205 scheduled monuments, 48 registered parks and gardens, 7,321 listed buildings and 144 conservation areas.
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