Government to explore single spatial plan for Oxbridge growth corridor

BUDGET 2018 The government has announced it will 'explore options' for a single spatial plan for the Oxford to Cambridge growth corridor and promised to create 'strengthened' and 'democratically-accountable' governance arrangements across the area.

Oxford city centre. Pic: chensiyuan, Flickr.
Oxford city centre. Pic: chensiyuan, Flickr.

The Treasury this afternoon published its response to advisory body the National Infrastructure Commission's (NIC's) report last year on the Cambridge-Milton Keynes–Oxford Arc.

The NIC published its Partnering for Prosperity study in November 2017, which called for a million new homes in the corridor by 2050 and for new road and rail links. 

In last year's Autumn Budget, Hammond backed the vision, but the government only today formally responded in detail to the NIC's recommendations.

In its response, the government said it would "explore options for delivering a pan-arc spatial vision, underpinned by a local natural capital plan, to co-ordinate investment in housing, infrastructure and the environment to support delivery of transformational growth across the arc". 

As a "first step" towards this, it said it would publish an "ambitious, corridor-wide joint vision statement to 2050" with local partners by Spring 2019.

The document adds that "where the government sees a clear need for doing so", the housing secretary "will utilise the powers under section 28A of Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to direct local planning authorities in the arc to undertake joint plans". 

The response document also said the government would agree, with local partners, "an approach for a strengthened, democratically accountable arc governance structure".

It goes on to say that the structure "should also be streamlined and practical for government to ‘do business’ with in order to make more rapid progress".

"It should have sufficient influence and expertise to challenge all parties to take key decisions at the right times, and to maintain confidence amongst all stakeholders, including universities, business and environmental groups," it adds. 

Other promises by the government include:

  • Appointing a ministerial champion for the arc, "to provide further focus and facilitate coordination across Whitehall".
  • Expecting "authorities and delivery bodies across the arc to use both existing and new mechanisms of land value capture to capture rising land values from the additional public investment in a fair way". 
  • Completing analysis "to understand housing growth scenarios and the associated infrastructure required". 

The response includes a reference to today's announcement of a pledge of £20 million of development funding for the East West Rail company "to support the development of a strategic outline business case for the central rail section, to explore which routes best support the government’s housing ambitions". 

In addition, in a letter to the NIC chair Sir John Armitt, the chancellor Philip Hammond said the government would respond in full to the body's National Infrastructure Assessment "in 2019". 

The letter requests that the NIC "undertake a new study on the resilience of the UK’s economic infrastructure". 

The NIC gave a lukewarm reaction to the government's response to its Oxbridge arc proposals. Armitt said: "The growth arc is in desperate need of new homes and improved transport links. These things won’t happen without continued and concerted effort from government, and today’s measures, while welcome, will not achieve that on their own. As work continues to deliver the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway and East-West Rail, I hope to see more being done to make the most of these opportunities to deliver new homes as part of new thriving communities – or the economic opportunities that the Growth Arc offer will be missed".

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

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