Thames Tap ArcWatch consultant Hugh Blaza has spotted a disconnect between those promoting the Arc and those who live close to it. 

Another week, another page of readers’ letters in the local media.

And not only are they unsupportive of the Arc and its champions; they are written by individuals, many of whom speak for pressure groups, who are at best suspicious, and at worst, implacably opposed to the proposals which so many see as potentially transformative. And transformative in a good way.

The Arc has been a construct for years, as the property community knows. But it’s my guess that the scientists and organisations driving the Arc don’t actually realise they are doing it; they’re just getting on with the projects their research and jobs entail.

Now, having recognised its potential and what those activities might do, not just for the region itself, but for other parts of the UK, the support of Government – central and local – has been sought and looks as if it will be provided.

But anecdotally (and confirmed at least in the Oxford neck of the woods by the constant message in the local paper’s letters page) support for the project from central Government, the LEPs, local authorities and growth boards is interpreted as an overbearing and undemocratic assault on the region in the name of ‘growth’ and ‘progress’.

It’s not hard to see why people at the Oxford end of the Arc are worried; Oxford is a city of enormous beauty and significant wealth. It is surrounded by wide areas of unspoilt countryside which people don’t want to see covered with new buildings, however ‘green’ they may be.

That’s not to say the city doesn’t have its areas of deprivation, but the contrast with other, far more deprived areas in the Arc couldn’t be starker. A combination of the support from Government and the employment, investment and growth which the activities are generating ought to produce a levelling up dividend for those areas; I don’t believe the Government’s policies here are geographically limited to the north.

But is the message getting through? It seems not. To quote from just one of the letters published recently: ‘The [Arc] does not (and should not have) a monopoly of innovation and employment. So far, neither the concept of the Arc itself nor the tentative plans for it, have a democratic mandate’.

If the Arc construct is a response to the organic growth in pioneering technologies coming out of the universities in the region and not, as the above reader appears to believe, the product of Government policy, its benefits need to be described and broadcast widely.

And that seems to be the idea. The Government’s spatial framework plan, launched some three weeks ago, contained the following statement:

“Our intention is to develop a long-term Spatial Framework for the Arc that will support better spatial planning, provide a blueprint for better-targeted public investment, give investors and businesses greater long-term certainty over growth plans, and allow communities to shape the long-term future of places across the region. The nature and content of the Spatial Framework will be subject to the outcome of both detailed consultation and sustainability appraisal.”

That’s the challenge for those charged with delivering the Arc. Perhaps they might start with some gentle correction of what people, perhaps understandably, are saying in their letters to the local press.

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