28 March 2018
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Last November, the National Infrastructure Commission published a report called ‘Partnering for Prosperity’. The link is below.
The report is about something called the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford arc.
Not many people will have heard about the report, let alone read it. But it will affect tens of thousands of people in North Bucks and consultation on one of the most important issues – the route of the OxCam Expressway - ends on 12 April. Yes, that’s in 2 weeks. And the route of the Expressway will determine where thousands of new homes will be built.
So, residents should know what’s happening and be given the chance to respond. Shouldn’t they?
So let’s backtrack for a moment.
The Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford arc is a crescent-shaped area of land that sweeps from Cambridge to Oxford via Milton Keynes and Bedford. The Commission’s report says the arc contains some of the most productive and innovative places in England but has not reached its full economic potential. In order to do that, it will need to double the rate of housing in the area delivering up to one million new homes by 2050. Yes, that’s right - one million new homes within the Cambridge- Milton Keynes- Oxford arc.
For Bucks, this means an extra 75,000 new homes between 2030 and 2050 on top of the 46,000 new homes already planned from now until 2033.
The Commission’s proposed development would mean new towns as well as the expansion of existing towns and villages.
The report also says this massive new development requires national investment in a new east-west transport infrastructure i.e. investing in the East West Rail and in an Oxford – Cambridge Expressway. (I can’t actually find a definition of an “Expressway” but would guess it is a fast dual-carriage road).
This “multi-modal transport spine” would expand the labour markets of key towns and cities and improve connections with international gateways such as Heathrow. Crucially, this transport infrastructure would also “unlock major new development locations and enable transformational growth around existing towns and cities”.
In other words, development would follow the route of the railway and Expressway.
Much of the route is already fixed – the railway would follow the existing track and the Expressway would follow existing roads.
Except – and here’s the thing - there’s a “missing link” between Milton Keynes and Oxford i.e. there is no obvious major road to follow.
So Highways England was commissioned to work up options and it has published its report (link below). There are three options for this missing link:
- Option A goes via Thame, Aylesbury and Leighton Buzzard
- Option B follows the line of the East West Rail
- Option C follows the A421 from Bicester to Milton Keynes via Buckingham
Remember, major development will follow the route of the Expressway.
Highway England has asked for written responses to its consultation by 12th April 2018. It has asked which route consultees prefer and why, and which routes consultees do not support.
I understand Bucks County Council favours Option A
I also understand Aylesbury Vale District Council will consider its response at Cabinet on 10 April. I have no idea what it will say.
I have no idea who else Highways England has consulted and no idea who those bodies have consulted in their turn. But it seems residents have been completely left out of the loop.
Not exactly democracy is it?
I’m not sure whether the Secretary of State took these proposals into account when he said he was minded to unify all the district councils and Bucks County Council into one unitary council.
But it does look odd when the north of the county will be looking to the Cambridge- Oxford arc as its driving force while the south of the county continues to look to London.
It will look even odder when Councillors from the south of the county on the new unitary council (who will be in the majority) start taking major planning decisions for the north of the county.
Aylesbury Vale is already taking 29,000 of the 46,000 planned new homes; it will then have to take the majority of the additional 75,000 new homes.
Doesn’t auger well.