Lack of spatial plan threatens Oxbridge growth corridor ambitions, says report

A lack of joined-up planning in the Oxford-Cambridge growth arc could hinder the government's aim of delivering one million homes in the area, according to a report by consultancy Savills.

Oxford needs a wider range of new housing tenures, says report. Image by Tejvan Pettinger, Flickr
Oxford needs a wider range of new housing tenures, says report. Image by Tejvan Pettinger, Flickr

In the 2018 Budget, the government said it supported the recommendation of advisory body the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) to build "up to one million high quality homes by 2050 to maximise the economic growth of the arc".

It also said it would explore options for a spatial plan covering the area, but the government failed to make a decision on such a document in this year’s Spring Statement.

The Savills report said a key obstacle to growth in the arc will be combining national planning policy with a regional strategic vision that can join up infrastructure delivery with economic and housing growth.

The area covered by in the analysis comprises 26 district and unitary authorities, four county councils, and one combined authority, the report states.

It said: "A …challenge to maximising the potential of the new infrastructure is that there is no joined up planning for the corridor.

"There is an emerging trend for more strategic planning, such as the Oxfordshire Housing Deal and the Cambridge and Peterborough Combined Authority, but these are mainly at a city region geography, rather than covering the whole growth area, and can be subject to changes in local politics, seen most recently in South Oxfordshire with the recommendation to throw out their current local plan."

In October, housing secretary Robert Jenrick issued a holding direction to stop South Oxfordshire District Council from voting to scrap its emerging local plan.

The Savills report also said that developers will have to provide a wider range of tenures to meet the arc’s target of one million homes by 2050.

It said: "This problem is particularly acute in both Oxford and Cambridge; in these locations the proportion of the population able to access home ownership is so limited that the private rented sector now accounts for over 30 per cent of all households. This is in comparison to an average of 18 per cent across the whole arc.

"In these cities, it will be very challenging to build homes for open market sale at the price point they are needed; while the professional, scientific and tech sector is projected to grow significantly, it will still only be a proportion of overall employment, and new housing will have to accommodate workers on a wide range of incomes."

To solve the issue it said that councils could work with more affordable surrounding areas to accommodate their overspill of need.

Savills also pointed to more schemes providing homes for specific needs and across a range of tenures, such as the recently-announced partnership between insurance group L&G and Oxford University. This aims to build discounted homes for university staff on land owned by the institution alongside homes for general sale.

Savills said it has identified a pipeline of 320,000 homes on major sites across the arc, of which 20,000 are currently under construction.

A further 140,000 homes are on sites that have been allocated in a local plan, and another 35,000 homes are on sites at a draft allocation stage.

However, it said land with capacity for 680,000 homes needs to be found to meet the one million homes target.

It said: "Based on the typical current density for development in the arc, this is equivalent to over 23,000 hectares. However, improving infrastructure will enable development at higher densities."

Roger Smith, Savills head of planning in Oxford said: "‘Re-examining the role of the green belt, particularly around Oxford, Cambridge and the southern fringe of the arc will inevitably be part of the wider spatial planning. 

"What’s needed is a coordinated approach across neighbouring districts.  A key challenge for the area will be combining the localism embedded in the NPPF with a strategic, joined-up vision for the whole corridor."

In March, the NIC said that, without a spatial vision for the area, local authorities "do not have the clarity required to make plans capable of ensuring transformational development".

The Savills report can be read here. 

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