Government buy in – and an ‘Andy’ to promote a single vision for the Arc

On Tuesday, Planning Director, Russell Gray, attended the latest event focused on the Oxford – Cambridge Arc region, hosted by Westminster Forum Projects. With Woods Hardwick acting for many developer and landowner clients across the central region of the Arc (particularly Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire), it was an important event for the region with the rallying call to Government to get behind us!

The Arc Leaders are currently preparing an economic vision to be presented to Government prior to the next Spending Review. This was confirmed by SEMLEP’s Chief Executive, Hilary Chipping. There was a consensus view that there is not enough national Government buy in yet, with Brexit and now Covid-19 diverting Government time and focus.  As Bidwells’ Matt Allen put it, the area desperately needs an ‘Andy’ (Street, Burnham), a political leader to champion the Arc and promote a single vision for the Arc at Government level. Bridget Rosewell, National Infrastructure Commission echoed that the region must be a national priority for the politicians.

The panel discussions drew out the acknowledgement that failing to deliver enough homes at a price people can afford will prevent the Arc realising its full potential. Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, James Palmer, offered an interesting view that Local Plans will not deliver the number of homes needed to realise the potential of the Arc. He also stressed that East West Rail alone cannot support the number of new homes needed, advocating the use of spatial strategies prepared at Government level, new towns and utilising the alternative routes for consent mooted in the Planning for the Future White Paper (i.e. Development Consent Orders under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects route or Local Development Orders). 

England’s Economic Heartland’s Martin Tugwell echoed that delivering infrastructure in tandem is absolutely key. EEH is focused on de-carbonising the transport system, with digital connectivity a must alongside transport. Covid-19 has accelerated changes in travel, working and other behaviours that we must acknowledge and act on.

Will Gallagher confirmed that the East West Rail Company are working on the alignment of the Bedford – Cambridge section of EWR with a wider number of criteria than typical for such projects informing decisions, this includes the ability to contribute to enabling housing development. But as Martin highlighted, with freight and logistics sectors fundamental to our economy, improvements in east – west connectivity beyond the plans for East West Rail are required. 

With Bedford College’s Ian Pryce stating thats the SEMLEP area has the highest level of job growth outside of London, it is clear that the region is on the cusp of phenomenal growth – but only if Government acknowledges and responds to this – and soon!