A single planning framework for the Ox-Cam Arc – what does this mean for Bedford?

The Government has announced plans to transform the Oxford-Cambridge Arc into the UK’s fastest growing economic region.

With a plan to transform the Arc into a world-class place to live and work sustainably, and the intention to establish a new single voice for the area – an Arc Growth Body – to drive and support economic growth – this is great news for the area. It can be seen as our region’s equivalent of the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine.

The Spatial Framework plan is being hailed as a vehicle to create thousands of jobs, drive investment, protect and enhance the environment, and provide the infrastructure and beautiful new places needed to make the area. The results, due to be published in 2022, will give communities a chance to shape the long-term future of the area and will help to ensure the benefits of growth are felt across the region. With the right interventions and investment, local analysis suggests that by 2050, economic output could double to over £200bn.

Hugely positive news, and yet with it, comes questions around what this means for Bedford and the surrounding area. With the town named as one of the stations along the route of East West Rail, and close to two of the 10 universities, Cranfield and Bedfordshire, that will help to support the region’s growth in terms of innovation and research, on our doorstep, surely we are in prime position?

However with the timing of the early review of Bedford’s Local Plan (with submission of the Local Plan for examination required by January 2023), the Spatial Framework announcement will undoubtably have an impact on Bedford Borough’s ability to best respond to the vision as it emerges alongside progressing the next round of development plans.  

In an ideal world Bedford would follow in behind the development of the Spatial Framework allowing the new Local Plan to capitalise on and deliver upon the opportunities that growth in the Arc will bring.  However, that is not where we are and the Local Plan therefore needs to ensure that strategies are suitably flexible to respond to the Spatial Framework and realise opportunities for growth where they arise. 

The neighbouring authority Central Bedfordshire are in a better position as their Local Plan is likely to be adopted in summer/autumn 2021.  Like Bedford, they will have a policy commitment to an early review of the plan but their timetable will be more closely aligned with the development of the Spatial Framework.

All across the Arc local authorities will face challenges in delivering upon the opportunities for growth but nobody has ever said that achieving this would be easy.  However the development of a Spatial Framework is a very positive step forward and it is very pleasing to see that community engagement has been placed at the heart of the process.