Three to Five Garden Cities in CaMKox Corridor – where might they go – will local authorities support them? @iainastewart @kitmalthouse

Sajid Javid in Sunday times March this year

Up to five new garden towns are to be approved for the corridor between Oxford and Cambridge under government plans to launch a “housing revolution” this week.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Sajid Javid, the housing secretary, said he would give the go-ahead to at least two new towns in the next few weeks and could push for up to three more. The decision comes after ministers agreed to fund a high-speed rail line and an “expressway” for cars between the two leading university towns.

“Along that corridor there’s an opportunity to build at least four or five garden towns and villages with thousands of homes,” Javid said. The first step will be to establish “new town development corporations” for the chosen sites,…

Government will also soon begin detailed analysis to explore potential locations for new settlements across the corridor, their alignment with transport infrastructure, and any environmental considerations.
Therefore, we now invite local authorities from across the corridor to bring forward ambitious proposals for transformational housing growth,
Iain Stewart Mp on Twitter to me
HMG has not finalised its response to the NIC report. The commitment was to do so by the time of the 2018 Autumn budget.

John Cotton commenting on this blog

Whilst I think the letter is more about smoking out the pockets of political support across the corridor (rather than the likely more widespread political opposition), the opportunity for strong local leadership is now. That leadership should mean a grown-up conversation with HMG, with pragmatism on housing numbers, timescales, locations and the cash to front-fund all of the necessary infrastructure – including the backlog.

The stasis on the corridor, followed by a letter that might have been diplomatically worded seems to be due to the changes in planning minister and SoS.  Brokenshire seems to far more localist than his predecessor – appointing a former CE of Localis (moe localist the Greg Clarke) as his SPAD and soft pedelling on the local plan naughty step just as it was beginning to work.   Opponents to the corridor know think they have numbers in Whitehall who will lend a sympathetic ear, and perhaps are gambling on cuts to infrastructure projects under a Boris premiership – although he would create the worst of all possible worlds – high housing growth with no infrastructure.

With possible disagreement in government the theory that this letter is a smoking out exercise is a good one – after all it has predictably smoked out South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse – the Science Vale or the Say No Vale?

Reading some blogs a rather mixed up theory has taken route, the government want to build a motorway – through Otmoor which will cause riots in Middle England  (no this isnt the preferred route but none wants to shout this from the rooftops as Oxford CCs leader and South Oxfordshire fiercely oppose it] and along this will be 1 million homes in a motorway side sprawl.  The year it has taken the government to even make a preliminary announcement on the next steps to choosing major growth locations has only heightened this.

The gap between the ‘1 million’ by 2050 and whats in current local plans is well over 700,000.  Where might this go?  When you use the self defined definition of the region (the England Economic Heartland LEP boundary, latest OAN figures and a realistic need from ‘land constrained areas’ (i.e. London), the figure rises to over 1.5 million).  Lets also remember the reason the Treasury are interested isn’t primarily houses or transport, it productivity and economic growth, the potential to spur the growth of 3 of the four fastest growing cities in England.

Where might you put an extra 700,000 homes in 5 places the corridor?  Some clues

First they would would have to be net new – so not the existing Garden Towns of Bicester and Didcot.

Second the size – Homes England at a conference has said 50-100,000 homes – so these alone would only reach 500,000 max, there would have to be 200,000+ at urban extensions elsewhere in the corridor.   Its better to think in terms of population, that’s up to 226,000 population, Milton Keynes design size was originally 250,000.

So where could you put 5 MKs?  Remember Javid wanted to make an early announcement also this is trying to be the opposite of sprawl that swallows up every village, South Cambridgeshire style, but concentrating it in locations easy to commute to Cambridge, Oxford and Milton Keynes.

The final clue is that Javid wanted to make an early announcement – so it means places already studied, likely along the Oxford Cambridge – East-West Rail line.  Which rules out Northamptonshire and the Bedford Northampton Corridor – which the NIC completely ignored in their report.  And with the chaos in Northamptonshire it looks likley they will miss out on investment again, even though restoring the Northampton-Bedford Line as a BRT route and reopening Roade station on the WCML (possible after capacity is freed up by HS2) could support over 200,000 new houses alone.

Putting these clues together there are precisely 5 locations where you could build Garden Cities.

Lets Name them east to West.

  • Bassingbourne Barracks -Royston
  • Henlow Barracks, Biggleswade, Sandy
  • Forest of Marston Vale
  • Calvert
  • Grove

In a series of future posts ill look in detail at each of these, but you can check my own work here or in the NIC background studies by 5th Studio.

in terms of likely political support

  • Bassingbourne Barracks -Royston

On South Cambs North Herts border,  likely support from Cambridge City and Cambridgeshire CC and Combined authority, likely opposition South Cambridgeshire.  North Herts might surprise you with support – strong local lobby that New Garden City rather than accretion is the answer.

  • Henlow Barracks, Biggleswade, Sandy

Central Beds – they want to grow this area but the scale will frighten them.  They want to rush their local plan to avoid the OAN uplift by the NPPF. They may respond with something but the scale is uncertain.

  • Forest of Marston Vale

Already smaller scale in local plans.  Split Central Beds and Bedford (please put it all in Bedford following a boundary review), Bedford always more positive, Central Beds have warmed to it, they scuppered Garden town bids before but now some growth is in local plan.

  • Calvert – Aylesbury Vale

In the Pickles era they were very anti growth, withdrawing their local plan, reducing numbers, opposing growth of Milton Keynes etc.  Now they are overwhelmed by discoordinated extension proposals and no masterplan.   I suspect they will bite.

  • Grove

South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse, no way, the local plans propose the minimum they can get away with here. Oxfordshire CC likley to support, especially if the four tacking of the GWR in the short missing gap to Swindon needed to support this was on the table.

There are of course other locations – but they depend on infrastructure which hasn’t been studied yet – such as restoring the Wycombe line in Oxfordshire east of Cowley, or further parts of the Great Central Railway.  This will depend on a major study.

So my best guess is that we will get positive responses from all of the above from one authority or another.  Though in a few places not necessarily all the districts.

The government will then announce this as ‘general support’ from the ‘majority’ of local stakeholder and local authorities.  It will then announce a major study on these locations and potential alternatives under a partnership board.

It all depends on whether Kit Malthouse has the lightness of touch to deliver the engagement and diplomacy – rather than be seen as barging in with both feet and panicking after a Daily Express Campaign and sensationalist TV of ‘riots’ on Otmoor.

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