Thames Tap consultant and former commercial property lawyer, Hugh Blaza, is a fan of the Oxford to Cambridge Arc but he believes a crucial element of the scheme is in danger of going off the rails.

I’m a great fan of the concept of the Oxford – Milton Keynes – Cambridge Arc. Or rather, I’m a fan of the activities which have inspired it.

I also get the theory that if they are nurtured, harnessed and developed properly, they will benefit not only the Arc itself but also other parts of the country which are active and pioneering in their own ways.

But connectivity has to be the key to it. Improving connectivity throughout the UK (and into Europe and beyond) can only be positive.

The Radical Regeneration Manifesto, the recent joint publication by Bidwells, Perkins+Will and Blackstock, is a commendable and detailed explanation of the huge benefits which the Arc could deliver. Not to mention its challenges.

But the Arc has to be done properly and with the support of the local communities along the way.

They all deserve to have explained to them how their lives would be improved by it.

Rightly or wrongly, suspicion abounds among those who will be most affected by these ambitious or (depending on your point of view) overblown plans, that there has been insufficient communication with them, let alone consultation.

And whilst I’ve heard little objection to the creation of the East-West Rail link, I’ve heard nothing but objection to the Expressway.

It is not only the environmental damage a new road would cause, but the view that it is a 20th century solution to a 21st century problem. The withdrawal of support by councils along the routes proposed is inevitable if they are to implement their commitment to tackling climate change and without that, surely the concept must be stillborn.

A modern and efficient railway link, taking passengers AND freight, with logical improvements around each station along the route, not to mention at each end, would encourage the creation of business and residential clusters which would thrive and benefit from the connectivity. 

And what of the housing targets published in the various draft local plans? Have they been calculated or located by reference to the concept of the Arc? Or on the assumption a new road will be built?

Or is there is a risk that the current plans may be forced through without consultation or by reference to a coherent masterplan? To the extent they are misconceived there must be a risk that they’ll put us back by decades if they’re built in the wrong place or based on the assumption a new road is coming.

If a masterplan is being developed, greater effort needs to be made to communicate its concepts and ideas to the inhabitants of the areas affected. Get the master planning right and people will be persuaded that they’ll become a highly beneficial part of a highly beneficial whole.

At the moment, and in spite of the numerous conferences and publications, not enough is being done in this direction. This is the challenge for Government and those of us who are enthusiastic about the Arc.

I couldn’t help but notice, incidentally, that there was barely a mention of the Expressway in the Radical Regeneration Manifesto. Do they know something we don’t know?

© Thames Valley Property No 190 (