Oxford Cambridge Arc – A Return to Regional Spatial Planning

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New Government framework for Oxford-Cambridge Arc

The Oxford-Cambridge Arc refers to an area of land between Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge which incorporates 31 local authorities across 5 county areas: Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. The Arc was the focus of long term Government aspirations to achieve sustainable economic growth, infrastructure delivery, new homes and lasting improvements to the environment in that region. The aspiration was for the development to make an important contribution to the country’s wider economic recovery and ultimately make the area a great place to be.

In February 2021 the Government published a policy paper on the Arc containing proposals for a regional spatial framework. At that stage it was envisaged that the Paper would be adopted as national planning policy and transport guidance in 2022. The purpose of which to drive investment where it is needed to ensure that, as growth happens, well-designed, inclusive and vibrant places and communities are created.

The Policy Paper confirmed that the rate of job creation in the Arc will far exceed current local plans’ employment targets. The increase in workers will require more housing in the area, which needs to be planned for.

The Framework will indicate locations for growth but will not make allocations or include detailed policies. However, opportunities are being sought to develop up to four new or expanded settlements within the Oxford-Cambridge Arc area.

The Policy Paper also outlined the Government’s intentions regarding community engagement, the high level scope of the Framework and the timeline:

  • Vision – public engagement on the vision ran from July to October 2021;
  • Towards a Spatial Framework – an options consultation in Spring 2022;
  • Draft Spatial Framework – published for consultation in Autumn 2022 and implemented shortly after.

The Government believes a strategic approach is necessary in order to support better planning decisions and realise the full potential of the area. It is an important consideration that this is an area where housing delivery rates are already significantly below the level needed to accommodate current housing needs. The Spatial Framework, that will plan to 2050 and beyond, will require the coordination of planning functions across the region and a strong push to achieve the objectives that have been identified.

Due to the national planning and transport policy status, the Framework will provide a strategic structure when preparing Local Plans in a similar way to the Regional Spatial Strategies of the past. Local Plans within the OxCam Arc area will have to be in conformity with the Framework. This includes Buckinghamshire Council, which withdrew from the Oxford to Cambridge Arc scheme in November 2020 due to the Council’s wish to be in control of its own future economic development and housing decisions.

The Government aspirations expressed in the Framework present significant opportunities for the development of land in the identified areas and are a signal for longer term growth in the wider area too.

Although no official announcement by the Government has been made that the Arc will no longer go ahead due to priorities being re-focused as part of the Levelling Up Bill, the Arc Leadership group has said it has agreed to continue to work together until September 2022 in the absence of a firm commitment to its delivery.

If you have any land or development interest in the region covered by the Framework, we would be pleased to advise you on the process going forward, taking into account the consultation timetable.

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