De-Risking Growth – Finally some Movement on Cam-MK-Ox Strategy?

Finally months after a spring statement that was supposed to lead to New Town announcements ‘within two weeks’ a seminar is being organised by Homes England with the Highways England and the Environment Agency on De-risking growth in the corridor – and how to take the vision forward.

Sadly since then progress has been slow with Homes England taking the lead from the NIC (which makes sense) without any clear remit or programme from the DCLG.

Sadly Homes England hasn’t helped – for example by backing Chalgrove Airfield – a site that doesn’t synergies with the corridor in any way, only for South Oxfordshire councillor’s rightfully to throw it out.

There has been some progress the Heart of England partnership, covering close to a sensible border for the corridor, is working on joining up transport strategies. Oxford is working on a strategic plan, as is Cambridgeshire. Bedfordshire has taken a step backwards as major site was proven deliverable in the Bedford Local Plan whilst progress in Northants is non existent (they even disbanded the joint committee as sone as the old West Northants Joint plan was adopted).  Mk has moved forward a little with its local plan but progress on its long term growth options is slow, and Bucks overall is somewhat paralized by what future shape local government should take in the area.

What needs to happen:

  1. Swift resolution on joint strategic plan structures for Northants, Bucks and Beds. One for Northants and One for Bucks and Beds is the simplest solution, with Mk now expanding into Bedfordshire and the Marston Vale being the key link.
  2. Clear indication from Government on just how much London overspill the corridor should take.  Otherwise no-one can plan strategically.  The NIC report assumed that the corridor would take come housing from ‘land constrained areas’ but no rationale for how much and where (its technical basis for the redistribution was very weak and based on 20 year old census data and TTW patterns).  It simply assumed all areas would take some equally, even though the corridor is far less constrained by AONB etc and so should take more.   So far the housing growth deals for Oxford and Cambridge simply assume roughly the national OAN numbers with no London overspill.  if are are planning for 15 years and no London Overspill no need for large new settlements over and above what is planned.  But if you plan for 2050 or so (the timescale to deliver strategic developments) and London overspill then there is simply no alternative to large new settlements.  Lets stop going round in circles, just set a number in discussion with the Mayor of London.
  3. Agree the alignment (concept) for East-West Rail and Oxford Cambridge Expressway.  We all know what the preferred routes (roughly) are – get them out the door by the Autumn otherwise there will be widespread confusion and blight.
  4. Stop thinking of the expressway as a means of widening car based commuting to Oxford and Cambridge.  If you do then it will face widespread and justified opposition and will hold everything up.  The expressway should be there for business and residual travel that cant go by public transport, and with several new cities on a corridor road access on roads better than old coach roads is inevitable.
  5. Stop giving the impression of concreting everything from Oxford to Cambridge.  That will imply lead to mobilisation of protest risking the whole project.  Rather think of it this way.  Cambridge and Oxford, even Mk, can only grow so much without losing their character and creating congetion, but they need to grow as a national economic priority.  Solution clone them, build three new cities along the corridor where development will be focussed as where public transport, walking and cycling is the norm. They will focus development leaving the vast majority of the corridor as rural as ever. inevitably such cities will be more linear in form , high density nodes along rail and BRT, linking to urban extensions of all three cities, and of Bedford, Northampton and Luton, but will high frequency transit (suing autonomous trains and automatic signalling) mean that there is no need for base any strategic development in teh whole corridor away from walking distance from a train station or BRT station.  I’ve tested this hypothesis and sure it can be done.  This derisks as you wont get Highways England objections all over the shop.
  6. Align infrastructure prioritisation, pragmatic land value capture and viability assessment.  The big lesson from the North Essex GC clusterf@@k.  You dont need everything cadded to full design or even final alignments.  All you need is a broad costing with contingencies at early strategic concept stage., ruling out in the short term concepts that cost billions (like tunnelling metros, huge light rail networks etc.)  Then when you have a broad concept and broad strategic locations you can calculate ‘peak debt’ to use teh key phrase from the governments New Town Guidance and do a DCF calculation for each strategic location.  As each strategic location would only go ahead at this scale with this transport investment you can capture land value at EUV using the ‘Point Gourd’ principle.  Indeed you can rule out now car based new settlements as acquiring the land value would make the schemes unviable, there would not be enough capture to mitigate the road impacts.  This shouldnt take years. Enough work has been done on possible startegic locations that a study on infra to support them with broad costing should take 8 months or less.
  7. Put together the CBR case to government.  Ok Minister we have x peak debt, creating x thousand new jobs, y% extra to gdp and the extra housing leading to z extra consumer spending that would therwise be sucked up in higher house prices.  The CBR is 8.7 (it wont be lower than that im sure) making the project amongst the highest rated major infra projects in the world. However without this we will only be able to build X% of these houses without unaccptable congestion.  Thats our plan b.  That’s what I call derisking.
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