The Department for Transport (DfT) announced its preferred route for the western section of the proposed Oxford-Cambridge "expressway" earlier this month. The expressway is a key element, along with a rail link, of plans steered by government advisory body the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) that could create up to a million new homes in the Oxford-Cambridge arc by 2050.
As recommended by government agency Highways England, the selected "Route B" option starts from the M1-A421 junction in Bedfordshire, runs south of Milton Keynes, across north Buckinghamshire and into Oxfordshire, with options to run east or west of Oxford. It travels alongside the proposed East West Rail link, which roads minister Jesse Norman said would give "a variety of road and rail travel options".
More detailed local consultations on the exact road alignment scheduled for next autumn look sure to prove contentious, not least in conservation terms. The RSPB said the selected route poses the "greatest threat to nationally and internationally importantsites" of the three considered. Local conservation group the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust claimed the route would damage 51 sites of special scientific interest and 20 local nature reserves. Paul Miner, head of strategic plans and devolution at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, added that it will be "particularly damaging" because it crosses tranquil, unspoilt countryside.
Further uncertainty has been raised by housing minister Kit Malthouse’sinvitation this summerfor planning authorities in the sub-region to come forward with "ambitious proposals for transformational housing growth, including new settlements", taking account of "their alignment with transport infrastructure" (Planning, 14 September, p9). In this fast-moving situation, Catriona Riddell, strategic planning specialist at local government group the Planning Officers Society, said that councils should be cautious about factoring the preferred route announcement into local plans. "It would be premature to do this now for a project that is still just a glimmer in the government’s eye," she warned.
At Aylesbury Vale District Council, which covers the central section of the proposed route, a source in its development delivery team said the implications would be considered in an early review of its emerging local plan for the period up to 2033, which it expects to reach adoption early next year.
But Heather Pugh, a partner at Milton Keynesbased consultancy David Local Associates, said "now is absolutely the right time" for planning authorities in the Oxford-Cambridge arc to explore what the project might unlock in terms of growth. "Rather than waiting for detailed confirmation of a final route, local authorities should take the lead in providing the DfT, Highways England and Network Rail with thinking and evidence on route alignments, interchange locations and design solutions that meet the quantum of growth and development objectives being sought for the arc."