Politicians, planners and environmental campaigners are at odds over plans to build up to a million new homes and a new road between Oxford and Cambridge.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling unveiled a proposal for a new expressway that would cut journey times between the two university cities. A defunct railway line, closed in 1967, would reopen and there would be a major undertaking to be build new housing in the so-called Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge Arc.
It is thought that the expressway proposal, from the National Infrastructure Committee, will be mentioned in the 2018 Budget, to be announced by Chancellor Philip Hammond on 29 October.
“If we don’t improve road connections in what is a busy part of the country, the existing roads will become more and more congested,” said Mr Grayling on the route that would also go near Bedford. “There will also be local transport improvements. We see the development of the corridor for economic and housing is essential.”
Concerns over effect on the environment But the impact of the plans has drawn criticism, with environmentalist George Monbiot saying, “In 30 years, if this scheme goes ahead, (Oxfordshire) must build as many new houses, and the infrastructure, public services and businesses required to support them, as have been built in the past 1,000. A million new homes amounts, in effect, to an Oxford-Cambridge conurbation.”
The Campaign For Rural England (CPRE), while acknowledging that there is a need for better transport links and additional housing, questioned the plan’s effects on the greenbelt if they were to go ahead.
“If given the green light, this development will change the face of England’s countryside forever,” said Paul Miner, the CPRE’s head of strategic plans and devolution. “Whilst there will be a need for genuine affordable housing to meet local need in the area, the scale of these proposals is completely unacceptable.
“We need much stronger commitments to protecting and improving the unique and precious rural landscapes in the Arc.”
Plans to build up to five new garden towns between Oxford and Cambridge were announced in the 2017 Budget, and in September 2018 Housing Minister James Brokenshire said around 200,000 new homes would be built nationally by 2050.
A spokesman for the National Infrastructure Commission 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.”