Shaping the future of the OxCam Arc

3rd August 2021

Global scale sustainable economic growth, positioning the UK to be at the top of the tree for science and innovation in new technologies is included in government ambitions for the Oxford Cambridge Arc.

As a key priority in the nation’s economic recovery following the impact of Covid-19, the vision of creating a vibrant knowledge economy region with new infrastructure and transport links between the intellectual powerhouses of Cambridge and Oxford has enormous ambition.

All of us now have the opportunity to help shape the future of the Arc, write Brendon Lee and Colin Jones at HCR Hewitsons.

This month the government opened its 12 weeks digital consultation on the planned Oxford-Cambridge Arc Spatial Framework seeking the views of individuals and business on the key priorities for the Arc.

The Spatial Framework will support the government’s ambition for the Arc to be based on sustainable economic growth in enhancing infrastructure, the environment and bringing forward new developments in the counties of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.

The consultation is based on a digital engagement platform as well as traditional engagement methods such as workshops.


Why is the Spatial Framework important?

The Spatial Framework will form national planning and transport policy for the OxCam Arc and inform development plans, including local plans and neighbourhood plans, local transport plans and local industrial strategies within the area. The Spatial Framework will sit alongside the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Delivery of the vision for the Arc will require new regional planning and development strategy, bringing together local authorities, private sector developers as well as individuals who already live in the region.

Importantly, local planning authorities must have regard to the policy for the Arc when preparing local plans and take the Arc into account when making decisions on planning applications. Such decisions need, as a matter of law, to be made in accordance with such local plans unless material considerations (including national policy) indicate otherwise. Local plan policies may be considered out-of-date if they are inconsistent with the Spatial Framework (per Policy 11(d) of the NPPF).

So, for businesses, especially those looking to grow, it is important to have your say.


What will the Spatial Framework cover?

The government is promoting the Spatial Framework on the core principle of sustainability set against the following four key policy pillars for which they are consulting upon:

  • The environment – the Arc vision intends not just to preserve but to enhance nature across the Arc. A green OxCam Arc which supports the environment, improves air quality, reduces flood risk and creates better access to nature and green spaces across the region is aimed for. The consultation seeks views as to how such ambitions for the Arc can be delivered, which will need to include existing residents and businesses faced with the impact of what is planned to be considerable new growth and development.
  • The economy – the Arc is planned to be a high growth region on a worldwide scale, setting the example for how future sustainable economic growth can be delivered in the UK. The consultation gives the opportunity to help shape the core economic strategy which will identify the policies, locations and investment needed to deliver the Arc’s potential.
  • Connectivity and infrastructure – the creation of ground-breaking, large scale new green infrastructure alongside existing communities, with planned new housing, will require national and international investment across the Arc to 2050, taking into account climate change, and gaps in existing provision.
  • Place-making – identifying the most sustainable locations for new homes, including identifying Opportunity Areas, and developing policies which will ensure developments come forward at the scale and speed needed and met housing needs in full (including affordable housing).


What else is the government doing?

The government has also announced a new expert panel to advise on sustainable economic and housing growth in the OxCam Arc. The panel will be chaired by leading development and regeneration expert Emma Cariaga and will advise the government on issues ranging from design and sustainability to delivery and investment models. Their primary area of focus to start with is between Bedford and Cambridge, where the government is examining opportunities to bring forward well-designed, inclusive and sustainable places.

With the vision for the Arc to increase the already high level of economic output across the region four-fold by 2050, and creating millions of new jobs, the OxCam Arc is already attracting international interest.

The challenges include the requirement for joined up thinking between multiple parties in the private and public sector and new leadership to deliver infrastructure and development on a scale not seen before in the UK.

Therefore, with a country faced with a need to repay the cost of tackling the Covid-19 pandemic, has there ever been a more critical time for all of us to get involved and help shape the future of the Arc?

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