Rural campaigners demand examination of 'unacceptable' Oxbridge growth plans

Government-backed plans for housing growth in the Oxford-Cambridge growth corridor could see an area of greenfield land the size of Birmingham lost to new development, according to the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

Growth vision: the VeloCIty team’s vision for green settlements won a National Infrastructure Commission competition for ideas on how to develop the corridor
Growth vision: the VeloCIty team’s vision for green settlements won a National Infrastructure Commission competition for ideas on how to develop the corridor

The conservation charity also claims that the proposals, produced by government advisory body the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), lack democratic legitimacy and should undergo a more formal planning process, including full public consultation and an examination.

Last November, the NIC's Partnering for Prosperity report called for a million new homes by 2050 in the Oxford-Milton Keynes -Cambridge corridor and improvements to east-west transport links to boost growth in the corridor. 

Shortly afterwards, the chancellor of the exchequer backed the vision in last year’s autumn Budget. However, the government is yet to formally respond in detail to the NIC's recommendations. 

In a study published today, CPRE says its analysis shows there are 230,000 homes currently proposed or being built within the arc, so in order to achieve the NIC’s  homes target an increase of 330 per cent would be required. 

It adds: "As there is capacity for just under 50,000 houses on previously developedland within the arc, the vast majority of these new homes would be built on areas of open countryside.

"Based on the average density of housing developments currently being built within the arc, CPRE has identified that 27,000 hectares of greenfield farmland and woodland – an area the size of Birmingham – could be lost to development."

CPRE's briefing note says that decisions on the levels and location of growth in the area will be made before there is a meaningful consideration of the effects on communities, agriculture and the environment.

It also says there has been no strategic environmental assessment of the impact of the proposals, including plans for a major new road to serve the new housing, the preferred route for which was announced in September

The campaign group called for a full parliamentary inquiry into the proposals, public consultation on the plans and a public examination covering the broad development options and individual sites earmarked for development. It added that the focus should be on improvements to public transport rather than building new roads.

Paul Miner, the CPRE's head of strategic plans and devolution, said: "If given the green light, this development will change the face of England’s countryside forever. Yet no formal assessment of the environmental impact has taken place. 

"There has been no formal public consultation around developing the arc. The lack of debate equates to a major, and troubling, democratic deficit at the heart of the proposals."

In response, the NIC said, that, contrary to the CPRE's claims, the arc's economic future "can be secured while retaining the area’s natural beauty".

A spokesman 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."

When the government formally endorses NIC recommendations, they become material considerations in planning decisions. The CPRE said it expects the government to announce endorsements of the NIC proposals in Monday's budget. 

At the Conservative Party conference last month, the government revealed that it has received expressions of interest from "about 14" local authorities in the area to promote new settlements.

A feature looking at how the Oxbridge corridor new settlement proposals are likely to progress can be found here

The CPRE study can be found here and the full NIC response here.

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