0835 GMT May 22, 2019
The Council for the Protection of Rural England has calculated that the scheme, proposed last year by the government’s National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), could see 27,000 hectares of greenfield farmland and woodland lost to development by 2050, theguardian.com reported.
The idea of building new towns and city-sized developments in an arc between the two university cities was proposed last year when the commission was chaired by Andrew Adonis.
The new settlements will be built around a new east-west rail line and ‘expressway’ road running from Oxford to the south of Milton Keynes and on to Cambridge. The government is expected to make a response to the proposal as early as next week in the budget.
The CPRE has said the housing plans could “change the face of England’s countryside forever” and that no formal public consultation, environmental assessment or parliamentary inquiry has been undertaken into whether it is desirable.
“The scale of these proposals is completely unacceptable,” said Paul Miner, the head of strategic plans and devolution at the CPRE.
Public opinion has been shifting in favor of new housing developments. In 2010, 29 percent of people said they would support new housing developments in their area; by 2016 the figure had increased to 57 percent. Levels of support for social housing are even higher.
The government wants to build 300,000 homes a year nationwide to solve the shortage of affordable housing. In the first quarter of this year, more than 13,000 people in England were accepted as unintentionally homeless, and rough sleeping has reached the highest level in the decade at 4,751 individuals, according to the government’s annual figures.
The CPRE is a campaigning organization with active branches in Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire, which will be expected to fight the NIC proposals. Its president is the pottery designer Emma Bridgewater.
The group predicted that the huge project could fail to meet the need for more affordable housing unless this aspect was given greater emphasis. At present, around 2,200 affordable homes a year are being built in the arc; local authorities have identified a need for almost 12,000.
“If this shortfall continues, no more than 18 percent of the locally identified need for affordable homes will be met during the planned period of growth,” it said.
The NIC has identified the arc in part because of the industrial potential of the existing towns, including leading bioscience companies in Cambridge, financial services in Milton Keynes, precision engineering in Northampton and space and high-tech engineering in Oxford.
The British Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government James Brokenshire said, “Building the homes our country needs does not mean tearing up vast tracts of our countryside. The Oxford-Cambridge arc is an opportunity to further strengthen rural economies, enhance the environment and benefit local communities.”
The NIC is proposing garden towns of up to 10,000 homes and city-sized developments of 150,000 homes overseen by development corporations similar to those which delivered new towns in the postwar period to provide overspill for an overcrowded capital.
It hit back at the CPRE’s assessment and said a lack of housing presented a ‘fundamental risk’ to the future economic growth of the Oxford to Cambridge arc.
A spokesman said, “Our recommendations come with the clear condition that new schemes should not compromise the high-quality natural environment for existing and future residents and do not need to involve any changes to existing green belt protections.
“In fact, our report made clear the need for significant investment in landscape improvements, affordable housing and sustainable transport. These changes are vital to make the most of the area’s economic potential and the contribution it makes to the wider UK economy.”