The sun has now set on the government’s first consultation on the Oxford-Cambridge Arc. The proposal promises to showcase the best of British business and innovation, however, the government must ensure that it collaborates fully with the rural economy to ensure success.
The stretch of land between Oxford and Cambridge, known as the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, has been identified by the government as a national economic priority area, holding a unique opportunity to become an economic asset of international standing. The Arc is formed of five ceremonial counties – Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. The government hopes the region will become a place that demonstrates the very best of British business and innovation for the benefit of local communities and the country as a whole.
The government’s first consultation on this concept, Creating a vision for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc’ released in July 2021, was strategic. It sought views on what the priorities should be for a spatial framework. This framework will set out a national planning and national transport policy for the area and will outline how growth will be planned for. The consultation also sought views on what a vision for the region to 2050 might look like with a focus on the environment, economy, connectivity and infrastructure and place-making.
There is no doubt the government’s desires for the Arc are ambitious, not least their aim to consult, draft and publish a spatial framework within a 24-month period
The spatial framework will form planning policy and transport policy for the region, sitting alongside the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and feeding into local development plans created by local authorities.
What does the Arc mean for the rural sector?
Hypothetically, the Arc should be fantastic news for rural communities and businesses - a clear government-led ambition to level up growth and opportunities across a region where 76% of the land is agricultural. Surely that is great news for the rural economy?
Upon reading the consultation, the CLA was disappointed to discover that recognition of rural areas, their communities and economy were nowhere to be seen. The levelling up agenda was focussed on urban levelling up - bringing economic improvements to Bedford and Luton, rather than recognising the desperate need for equality between urban and rural areas.
CLA consultation response
The CLA’s response confronts this lack of rural representation head on, setting out the fundamental need for the rural sector to be at the heart of the government’s focus for the Arc.
By 2050, the CLA’s vison for the Arc is for it to become an exemplar region for equality between rural and urban areas where:
- the rural economy is thriving, delivering a range of high quality full time, year round jobs with competitive salaries;
- rural areas and communities are supported to grow through sufficient provision of facilities, infrastructure, services and amenities;
- housing needs of rural communities are met by delivery from within the local community;
- rural areas are fully connected in terms of transport, infrastructure and digital communications;
- local road networks, upon which rural communities rely heavily, receive the investment to ensure they are fit for purpose;
- environmental and natural capital improvements and enhancements provide the solution towards achieving a net zero target;
- farming businesses are provided with the right environment and policy framework to thrive, with delivery of food security and access to new local markets, climate change and the natural environment at their core;
- heritage assets are conserved by enhancement of their setting and character, and sympathetically re-purposed to viable uses to bring wider social, economic, and environmental benefits to communities;
- a clear and long-term skills programme is in place to help meet the goals of profitable farming and forestry, environmental land management and fast business adaptation by providing a well-trained and properly skilled workforce;
- landowners and authorities work collaboratively to deliver successful schemes with mutual benefit;
- a long-term legacy approach is taken towards future development of the region, where planning, design and place-making is at the fore.
The Arc needs to capitalise on the region’s potential and opportunities to close the rural productivity gap. This will allow the rural economy to thrive by creating jobs and prosperity, investing in communities and protecting the environment for future generations while producing quality food.
To achieve this, rural communities and businesses must be fully represented throughout the development of the Arc spatial framework so that these communities and their needs are at the forefront of decision-making. The government also needs to collaborate with the rural sector to deliver these ambitions in a mutually beneficial way.
CLA lobbying focus
Time and again, rural communities’ needs and desires are ignored. It is our job to change that and make central government focus on levelling up rural areas. Government must deliver on the needs of rural communities and support a dynamic and thriving rural economy.
The development of an Arc spatial framework will result in two further government consultations, which are expected in Spring 2022 and Autumn 2022. We will be ready to build on our key messages from this consultation and will continue to champion the need for the rural economy to be at the heart of the Arc.
OxCam Arc Working Group
We have set up a member-led CLA OxCam Arc Working Group, chaired by Nicholas Verney of the Claydon Estate, Buckinghamshire. The aim of this group is to inform and direct CLA involvement with the OxCam Arc project at each stage, oversee responses to government consultations CLA participation in third-party working groups.
The group is made up of various landowners, farmers and rural businesses through the Arc region.
If you would like more information, please email Alison Provis, CLA East Regional Surveyor or call 01638 590429.