The Government’s consultation on the Oxford-Cambridge Arc Spatial Framework closed recently. Local authorities, residents and anyone with an interest in the region were asked to give their views on the vision for the future of the area to 2050.

It was the first of three consultations which will inform the new spatial framework as it emerges over the next couple of years. It looks at four core areas: environment, economy, connectivity and infrastructure.

With the deadline passed, DevComms director Maria Allaway takes a snapshot of attitudes of some of the key authorities across the Arc, with the general picture being a balanced mix of views. These range from enthusiastically supportive, through to measured, cautious and completely opposed.

At the southern end of the Arc, Buckinghamshire Council, having withdrawn from the Arc Leaders Group last year, together with the University of Buckingham and the LEP, decided to ‘not interact directly’ with the consultation and instead, responded to the Minister responsible for the Arc, to reiterate its position and set out queries and concerns.

Branding the consultation ‘superficial’, Bucks Council objected to the Arc principles which impact on the ability of the council to plan for its own growth. With Bucks Council’s ambitions firmly set on securing a county deal, its clear objective is to lead with a ‘place-based recovery’ approach through their own strategic vision to avoid decisions about Bucks’ future being made in Whitehall.

Moving into Oxfordshire, it is clear that the districts are not all aligned in their thinking, with Conservative authorities, perhaps unsurprisingly, more supportive of the Government’s plans than others.

Cherwell District Council had a positive take on the consultation, reporting that it was ‘positively framed’ supporting social, economic, environmental and well-being ambitions for the Arc. Cherwell is keen to see alignment between the preparation of the Arc’s spatial framework, the Oxfordshire strategic vision, the Oxfordshire Plan and the Cherwell Local Plan review.

Showing its strong support through their formal response, Cherwell stated that it believes ‘the Arc Spatial Framework provides a unique, transformational opportunity to bind the strengths of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire and develop innovative, future facing policy that will be a catalyst for an economic and environmental leap forward and as part of a national programme’.

South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) took an entirely opposing view, stating that ‘Government has made economic growth its priority for the Arc, without asking residents whether that is the right priority, considering natural limits and resource constraints, or even whether the Arc project is necessary’.

Focusing on the impact of climate change, SODC reported that ambitions for the Arc to drive ‘excessive growth’ ignores nature and climate action, which they and other local authority leaders have attempted to prioritise, whilst creating an ‘arbitrary geographic construct’.

The council added that if the project is to continue, that Government needs to set out clear objectives in terms of expected costs, projected housing and growth expectations, and how it will fit into a wider regional structure within the UK. SODC also appealed for Arc authorities to have powers and funding to enable landscape restoration and to set their own housing requirements based on local need, a view similar to that of Buckinghamshire Council.

Elsewhere in Oxfordshire, the Future Oxfordshire Partnership – formerly the Oxfordshire Growth Board – and West Oxfordshire District Council took a more balanced view.

Future Oxfordshire Partnership’s response focused on the importance of the strategic vision and ‘highlights that we are striving to enhance environmental, social, and economic wellbeing across the county, and that the Arc vision should be complementary to that ambition’.

Echoing SODC’s priorities, Future Oxfordshire Partnership’s response references the importance of the environment and cites challenges around affordable housing and the electrification of East West Rail.

The response also calls for comprehensive engagement from Government with the public and other stakeholders to inform the development of the spatial framework and to ensure a diverse mix of views are heard and understood.

Perhaps unexpectedly, West Oxfordshire District Council (WODC), took a measured view of the Arc consultation, reporting that the Arc itself ‘provides an opportunity for the area to be a leader in achieving exemplar green infrastructure, biodiversity net gain and nature-based solutions’.

WODC emphasised the importance of education and training for the Arc’s economy to be fully supported. Recognising that Oxfordshire’s demographic is diverse, the response added that there are some deprived areas within Oxford and other areas of the Arc where school attendance and educational achievement remain extremely low.

Moving forward, the council expressed that there needs to be stronger link ups between education and businesses to spark interest and inspire young people in the key, growing sectors, so that all communities benefit from the Arc.

In Bedfordshire, Bedford Borough Council’s cautious response focused on the environment with the reference to delivering a ‘Green Arc’ and greater emphasis on addressing the climate emergency, dealing with health inequalities and maximising the use of renewable energy.

The council aired concern around focussing only on a long-term strategy, whilst overlooking the short to medium term, and concern that the Arc is simply a vehicle for delivering more housing and a need for jobs, rather than sustainable growth which addresses the needs of the population now.

In Cambridgeshire, Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire Council submitted a high-level joint response ‘that seeks to align our aspirations and commitments for the emerging joint Greater Cambridge Local Plan with the emerging Arc framework’.

On the principle of the consultation, the response flagged concerns that there is not enough detail to enable a full response ‘and significant further work will be needed in order for the councils to fully endorse or provide meaningful comment to the emerging Spatial Framework’.

So in summary, it is clear that different corporate agendas are driving attitudes towards the Arc. However, growth is a certainty and it is possible that those authorities that do not engage with the Arc are potentially going to lose out, not only on influence, but also on opportunity.

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