The economic future of the arc spanning Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford can be secured while retaining the area’s natural beauty – contrary to claims by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

In its report published today, the CPRE claims that recommendations put forward by the National Infrastructure Commission for new homes and improved transport connections would affect a “Birmingham-sized area of countryside” and does not take sufficient account of the potential environmental impact of the proposals.

It follows publication of the Commission’s report, Partnering for Prosperity, in November 2017, which highlighted the need to deliver one million new homes in the area by 2050, supported by developing the Oxford-to-Cambridge Expressway and East-West rail line.

The Commission’s analysis found that a lack of sufficient and suitable housing presented a fundamental risk to the future economic growth of the area – to the detriment both to the local communities and the country as a whole.

In its work, the Commission found that local plans alone, while providing for 230,000 new homes, would not meet current housing need, making provision for fewer than 16,000 new homes a year and only last until the early 2030s.

Recommendations included:

  • A doubling of the current rate of housebuilding, supported by the improved road and rail links.  This includes the 230,000 homes already planned, including sites under construction, approved or allocated in local plans;
  • The delivery of East-West Rail connecting Oxford and Cambridge, delivering the stretch from Bicester to Bedford by 2023, and from Bedford to Cambridge by 2030; and
  • Accelerating the development and construction of a link between the M1 and Oxford by 2030, as part of the proposed Oxford-Cambridge Expressway

And unlike the analysis by the CPRE, the Commission’s report highlighted that through careful design there may be scope to increase the density of new building.  The study also highlighted that continued pursuit of dispersed or low-density new development would be unlikely to help the arc make the most of existing or future infrastructure.

Given the relatively limited availability of land in many areas of the arc, this would help make better use of this scarce resource, while at the same time seeking to maintain the area’s natural beauty.

Responding to the CPRE’s report, a spokesman for the National Infrastructure Commission said:

“Our recommendations come with the clear condition that new schemes should not compromise the high quality natural environment for existing and future residents, and do not need to involve any changes to existing Green Belt protections.

“In fact, our report made clear the need for significant investment in landscape improvements, affordable housing and sustainable transport.  These changes are vital to make the most of the area’s economic potential and the contribution it makes to the wider UK economy.”

Reducing the environmental impact of transport – the National Infrastructure Assessment

Since publication of Partnering for Prosperity, the National Infrastructure Commission has also published the UK’s first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment, which prioritises future infrastructure spending at a national level across transport, energy, waste, digital communications, water and floods management.

It recommends that an extra £43billion of investment in urban transport across the country, alongside investment in the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway.

It also outlines the steps that government needs to take to enable a rapid uptake of electric vehicles, which has the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality.