The western section of the Oxford – Cambridge Arc is approaching a crucial stage with two key developments due within weeks.
Barton Willmore partner Mike Knott said a consultation document relating to the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 is due to be published within weeks which will, for the first time, show the overall level of growth being proposed for the county and the strategic locations for it.
In addition, an early draft of the Arc’s spatial framework is due to be published around the same time. Options for turning the vision into policy are due around Spring 2022 with a further draft of the framework due around the end of 2022.
Mr Knott told Thames Tap: “The next 12-18 months is going to be a critical time for the western part of the Arc in terms of the long-term planning of the area.
“And, at last, we will start to see that ambition crystallising into a firm plan-led strategy.
He added: “It’s been going on since Partnering for Prosperity (published by the Government in 2018) and even the earlier NIC work on the Arc.
“The Arc has been talked about for so long I think the risk is that people have become unclear as to exactly what it is. At a somewhat simplistic level, it is an ambition to deliver a high level of economic growth and housing.
“In large part, due to the challenges faced in Oxfordshire in delivering Local Plans, people have become sceptical about the ability to actually deliver a tangible strategy. And I think it still remains to be seen whether it will be done.
“Yes, I’m more confident with the spatial framework policy paper but that process is yet to get under way, there’s still a long way to go.
“That said, there is now a fixed timetable for both the spatial framework and the Oxfordshire Plan and that timetable is now quite a concise timetable of 12-18 months.
“Therefore, it’s going to be a very exciting time for that part of the region as it starts to translate into more detailed, more specific and tangible proposals.”
Mr Knott believes it would be unrealistic for work to have moved any quicker on the Arc’s governance structure. And, while politics has always been the biggest obstacle to delivering it, those now driving it are doing good work.
He said: “These things need to be carefully managed and they take time. Bev Hindle who coordinates the Arc Leaders’ Group is doing a valiant job of taking it forward.
“For anyone who is not on the inside of that, it would be difficult to under estimate how challenging that role must be.
“But I think the announcement of the spatial framework and the details, which include MHCLG taking more of a lead role in driving that forward, do seem to suggest that delivering the ambition for the Arc is not something that local government would be able to do on its own, unassisted.”
Mr Knott said the environment has become an increasingly prominent feature of the Arc, both in terms of clean growth in line with the Government’s broader agenda for the green recovery, and environmental protection around growth.
He added: “I think, ultimately, what will become one of the key requirements for new developments being brought forward, is the need for those highest levels of sustainability.
“That could be a challenge for the development industry but, clearly within Oxfordshire, and no doubt elsewhere across the Arc, there will be that expectation almost as a pre-requisite.”
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