The Oxford to Cambridge Sausage?!
Has anyone heard of the Oxford to Cambridge Sausage? No, me neither.
That was until a few weeks ago when I attended a networking event at the MK Dons Stadium in Milton Keynes when the ‘Sausage’ was the latest of many names used to describe the proposals for the ‘Oxford to Cambridge Growth Corridor’.
Numerous phrases have been coined to describe the geographical area that the Government sees as the economic engine of the country – outside of London. The ‘brain belt’, the ‘arc’, the ‘Oxs-Cams Corridor’ – many names being attributed to the same thing – a geographical area of significant focus for investment and growth in the country up to 2050 (which apparently looks like a sausage). I will stick to referring to it as the ‘Growth Corridor’ for the purposes of the remainder of this article!
The headlines around the Growth Corridor are eye watering. 1 million new homes and new jobs, a population increase of close to 2 million people in the next 30 years and the involvement of 26 local authorities. These are figures that have made everyone involved in the development sector sit up and take notice and have made the Campaign to Protect Rural England choke on their Cumberlands.
I have spent the last 3 years advising clients of the implications of the Growth Corridor on their businesses. No sausages were involved in this advice, but what I can say is that there were plenty of references to pigs ears. I’m not one to be negative (honestly) about how the Government goes about changing the planning system to ensure its aspirations for the Growth Corridor can be delivered, but I am afraid that on this occasion I am going to be and here is why.
The Growth Corridor is an area spanning approximately 85 miles between the two varsity cities of Oxford and Cambridge. There are 26 local authorities all having different priorities and political objectives, each having their own particular social, economic and environmental issues to contend with. There are areas of Green Belt aplenty, significant problems with existing infrastructure and some of the most partisan objectors to development you will find in the country. All of that sounds to me like a perfect storm in terms of trying to plan positively for growth.
As currently framed, the planning system would deliver growth across the Corridor through Local Plans (that’s at least 26) and where agreed through combined authority ‘spatial development strategies’ (a new addition to the NPPF). Spatial development strategies such as the Joint Statutory Spatial Plan (JSSP) have now commenced preparation in Oxfordshire. Whilst the NPPF’s introduction of spatial development strategies is welcomed to some degree, it does not go far enough. Spatial development strategies will focus on relatively small geographical areas (i.e. counties) and Local Plans will focus on delivery in individual Districts. In the context of the large geographical area that the Growth Corridor covers, this approach to plan making cannot be a joined up one - it will be too piecemeal.
Locally led decision making in the planning process across the Growth Corridor is extremely important, but……… the only feasible way of tackling the strategic planning issues across such an area is through the preparation and adoption of a single spatial plan that covers the entirety of the Corridor. Strategic infrastructure projects such as the completion of East – West Rail and the route of the proposed Expressway must not in isolation set the strategic framework for each Local Plan to follow.
The implications of a successful Growth Corridor will be felt nationwide. If planned well the Corridor could realise its full potential and beyond. We need a commitment to prepare a Corridor wide Spatial Plan and its needed now.
On a final sausage related pun…………the Oxford to Cambridge Growth Corridor is one juicy planning sausage I am looking to get my teeth into with Walsingham Planning.
Article by Alan Divall
Alan joins Walsingham Planning having spent 7 years at West Waddy in Oxfordshire, the latter part of his time he was as Partner leading the Practice’s Planning Team and working for clients on residential, commercial, educational and mixed used developments.