The Oxford-Cambridge Arc – A Quick Update

What we have learned since the budget announcements – the Aecom study etc.

  1.  The Expressway – timetable now clearer, corridor B chosen, whether North or South Oxford  – specific route consultation on options next year.
  2. East-West Rail, consultation on route options for central section (Bedford to Cambridge) early next year, will this be integrated with consideration of potential new Settlement  locations in the assessment/SEA. CBA – of course not that would be far too much like good practice or common sense to be considered.
  3. Oxfordshire- launch of JSP process in January.
  4. South Oxfordshire – now about to agree local plan (last in Oxon – which includes GB sites around Oxford).  That deals with growth to 2035 ius – now that is ‘agreed’ JSP can begin to look at longer term options.
  5. The 1 million chancellors target is out of date – as then the arc didn’t include South Bucks or North Northants – both are now in.  The Budget documents didn’t mention a housing target.
  6. There are submissions to the Garden Communities proposal – but they are small.  Nationally only add up to half a million, average 5,000 each. No sign of the large settlements of 50,000+ favoured by Homes England, no way forward suggested of how these will come about other than through JSPs.
  7. Cambridgeshire is stalling.  Crazy combined authority events  are slowing everything as the post 2035 JSP wont conclude until the infrastructure plan till 2035 is agreed, and James Palmer v Cambridge/South Cambs has become a soap opera.    He ran against a busway, is now in favour of a busway with tunnels (no budget for tunnels and sacked the finance director for saying that) and complains against Greater Cambridge Partnership for saying that as he is now backing a busway lets build a busway to Cambourne.  yes its that petty and silly.  The leader in the Arc is now the laggard.
  8. Northamptonshire – broke – going to two unitaries. So nothing happening strategic wise, consumes everything
  9. Bucks – going to one Unitary – which makes it interesting as any plan will now have to consider the 15,000 overspill from Slough and the Western edge of Heathrow
  10. Milton Keynes – announcement on expansion to 400k delayed after intervention from local mps.  They seem to have an ambition to grow to 500k also which seems just to be a number plucked from mid air
  11. Central Beds – got there submission in which if adopted will give them 5 years under the HDT.  What incentive do they now have to contribute to teh ARC wider aspirations and SOAN – none.  Good example of lack of joined up government thinking.
  12. Heart of England – the real driver and leagues above any similar partnership in England.

So lets sum this up, joint planning by sector is none existent or now dysfunctional everywhere in the Arc except Oxfordshire – who would have predicted that  two years ago when peace breaking out in Oxfordshire would have been as likely as an Iran-Saudi Arabia friendship agreement.  Four key roadblocks now to progress:

  1. Strategic Infrastructure corridors disjointed from strategic planning
  2. Local Government is unstable – unstable local government cannot plan
  3. Combined Authority – introduction was a big step backwards disrupting joint working in South Cambridgeshire that was at last working well.
  4. No real incentive for anyone to put forward large new Garden Communities to meet larger than local need.


Bedford Local Plan at Executive for Submission Tonight – 5 years knocked off plan period

Trying to hit the deadline for being examined under the old OAN.

On May 10th 2018 Executive considered the responses to the consultation. A key allocation in the published plan was a new garden village around Colworth Park close to Santa Pod Raceway. It relied upon agreement between the garden village promoter and the operator of the raceway to deliver a range of noise mitigation measures. The response from the operator of the raceway to the consultation explained that it had not been possible to reach such an agreement and for that reason they could not support the proposal. Executive resolved not to recommend to Full Council that the Local Plan 2035 be submitted to the Secretary of State for formal examination, but instead to instruct Officers to carry out additional work on the evidence base, including a review of reasonable alternative options….

The main changes were to the period covered by the plan from 2015-2035 to 2015-2030 and consequent amendments to numbers throughout the plan; the removal of the garden village policies 26 and 27; the introduction of a development allocation for 500 dwellings at Sharnbrook Key Service Centre which had previously not been included as a result of the close proximity of the garden village allocation,
and a development allocation of between 25-50 dwellings at Willington where the availability of school places is no longer a constraint….

The main issues raised in the two consultations can be summarised as follows.
• The time period covered by the local plan.
Some objectors consider that the revised plan period is not consistent with Government guidance which says that plans should be ‘drawn
up over an appropriate timescale, preferably a 15 year time horizon…..’
• The objectively assessed need for further housing development.
Some objectors believe that the Council’s calculation of the objectively assessed need for further housing development is overstated and
is based on incorrect assumptions. As a result the amount of growth that the plan provides for is too much. Other objectors comment that
the figure is understated when compared to the standard methodology now included in Government guidance, which means that true
need will not be met and the local plan will be out of date soon after adoption….



I didnt think I would live to see the day but South of Grenoble Road is in the Draft South Oxfordshire Local Plan

Grinding its way towards full council

Chalgrove stays – 3,000 homes

South of Grenoble in – 3,000 homes

Wheatley Campus stays – the planning application for it refused last week.

I don’t think it was necessary to mention the three different GB studies saying three different things on South of Grenoble, washing dirty laundry in public – just what the current assessment of the exceptional circumstances test is now.  In the end they were helpful to the assessment but didn’t drive it.  Difficult choices drove it.

RIBA President – Architects should shun ‘dreadful’ Office to Resi PD work

Ben Derbyshire – 

Do such schemes ever go above technician level – with architects simply signing off the fire buildings regs work – as only they can?

Misery for residents and profiteering for developers unleashed by change of use

At this year’s Civic Voice conference, one of the audience asked the panel for advice about solutions to the growing problem of transient populations in areas where homes are being converted from offices. Don’t blame the people, I replied – blame the policy.

The coalition government introduced a range of change-of-use permitted development rights including conversion of commercial buildings to residential. These came into force in April 2016, unleashing a disastrous, unintended tide of profiteering by developers and misery for residents of their projects.
Government planning statistics reveal that in the year to June 2018, 5,400 applications were for changes to residential use, of which 3,700 were allowed without going through the full planning process. There is no indication of the resulting number of individual ‘dwellings’ but the total will be many times larger – 40-50,000 is not an unreasonable guess.

The government impact assessment for this policy predicted there would be little uptake, it would be cost neutral, it would save local authority planning department resources and that housing in unsustainable locations was unlikely. How could this assessment have been so totally wrong?

Research led by Ben Clifford from UCL shows this policy has brought a wave of extremely poor quality housing that does little other than enrich unscrupulous developers. I have seen plans with ‘studio flats’ of just 13.2m2 and the UCL research reports an overall rate of just 30% meeting nationally described space standards, with no access to private or communal amenity space. Homes have been dumped in the middle of industrial estates or next to some of the busiest, most polluted roads in the country. There was direct evidence of the profitability of conversions for developers and land owners, but little sign of contribution to the public infrastructure needed for this additional housing. The consequence must surely be a heavy burden on social services and health departments, owing to the stressful circumstances in which people are being forced to live.


We should boycott this dreadful policy, turn down commissions that involve the creation of such poor living conditions

I have no objection to ‘micro flats’ provided they are well designed, their clientele is carefully selected, there is a management regime to support them and good facilities in the neighbourhood. But I object in principle to projects that are not subject to any sensible consideration of the human condition of their occupants and yet are enabled by this profoundly misguided and shortsighted policy.

The call to end this egregious and exploitative loophole in the planning system is one of the key asks in a new document from the RIBA Expert Advisory Group on Housing. Together with case studies of RIBA award-winning housing projects, it shows how good new housing developments can be when you combine a talented architect and a responsible and enlightened developer.

Clifford’s UCL research concludes that developers’ agents should provide robust advice about this, particularly if there are professional conduct and ethics implications.  I would like to think that RIBA members would offer such advice based on evidence that already exists and turn down commissions that involve the creation of such poor living conditions. We should boycott it, campaign against it, and lobby with research-based evidence that will lead, ultimately, to the repeal of this dreadful policy.

The commitment shared by all five architecture institutes of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, to strive to put the public interest at the forefront of all we do, will, I hope, result in a stronger Code of Professional Conduct and Code of Practice. I look forward to the outcomes of our Ethics and Sustainable Development Commission as well as the Conduct Review working group, which I hope will rule out our involvement in such poor projects.

Garden Pimples – Garden Communities Bids Only Averaged 5,000 homes each

Kit Malthouse talking 22nd Nov

The government had received 100 applications for new garden communities, equating to half a million new homes. This was “an extraordinary signal”, he said, that local authorities “are willing to embrace ideas of greater capacity and design.

Thats an average of 5,000 each.  I personally was involved in two bids totalling 135,000 homes.  So that means the vast majority of bids were well under 5,000, despite the very strong preference in the prospectus for sites of 10,000+ homes capable of supporting a secondary school and town level services.  Given some were large most would have had to have been very small to produce that average.

Overall its less than two years supply.  Given that in terms of new settlements we are talking to a horizon of 2050 and beyond thats probably less than a third of the total garden community housing we need over this period to plug the gap, if we are to avoid endless sprawl in poorly located suburban and village sites.

What does this mean?  Lots of strategic growth location that would have come forward anyway dressed up as garden communities, and most likely garden suburbs.

Little appetite so far for putting hard numbers on larger sites, why because may will come froward as part of strategic plans – new style JSPs- in the corridor which have yet to consult on, such as the CAMKOX corridor, some such as in South Essex will be in Green Belt, and publicising these in advance of plans would be disastrous

What it shows is that the government despite warming to the idea of strategic planning, is moving too slowly and too tentatively to provide a supportive framework for studying and developing Garden Towns and Garden Cities.  All the risk lies with local authorities and few have the resources to develop the regional or national scale transport infrastructure that would make Garden Communities work.