Government Announces Launch of Oxford – Cambridge Arc Spatial Framework

Announcement here policy document here Though they mention reducing carbon emissions I think they really missed a trick in not specifically highlighting zero carbon outcomes,(mentioned once not an objective). MCHLG tweeted ‘we have announced our intention to set up an Arc Growth Body’,and the covering webpage ‘An intention to establish a new single voice for the area – an Arc Growth Body – to drive and support economic growth’, but not mentioned in the policy document..

At Budget 2020, the government committed to developing, with local partners, a Spatial Framework for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc – the area that spans the five ceremonial counties of Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.

This is an opportunity for us to work with communities and local partners to develop a plan that will:

  • support long-run sustainable economic growth across the area
  • help to make the area a brilliant place to live, work and travel in – for existing residents and future communities alike
  • support lasting improvements to the environment, green infrastructure and biodiversity

This policy paper sets out the government’s planned approach to developing the Oxford-Cambridge Arc Spatial Framework, including a timeline for delivery, its high level scope, and how we will work with local partners.

The document itself says:(my emphasis)

The need for a government-led approach to strategic planning

Addressing these issues requires coordinated action across the Arc, and some coordination is already happening. Unitarisation of local councils in Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire (building on existing joint planning arrangements in place in the latter) will support more strategic planning in those areas, as will the Joint Strategic Spatial Plan in development in Oxfordshire, and the non-statutory Spatial Framework in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Alongside this, the government is investing in the new East West Rail link to connect Oxford and Cambridge and providing over £400 million of Housing Infrastructure Fund investment to support delivery of housing on strategic sites. The Government has also agreed city deals with Oxford and Cambridge – an ambitious growth deal with Oxfordshire as they take forward a joint plan for the county, and a devolution deal with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority. We have also made a commitment to examine the case for development corporations, linked to the new transport hubs around East West Rail stations. But action is needed across the wider area on strategic planning, environmental, economic development and infrastructure issues.

A coordinated approach is difficult because the Arc comprises: 23 local planning authorities; a mayoral combined authority, eight transport planning authorities, the area’s Local Enterprise Partnerships (which have responsibility for economic development), and England’s Economic Heartland – the sub-national transport body that covers a slightly wider area than the Arc. There is also no single institution with the necessary competence and authority to lead a coordinated approach. This means that planning at the local level for homes, business space, infrastructure and the environment is not integrated, and is unable to take an Arc-wide view. If we want a better future, we need to plan for growth by thinking about the provision of infrastructure, housing, the environment and the needs of businesses and universities at the same time. We cannot continue to plan for transport, the environment and housing separately, or to think of economic development as separate from housing provision and commercial development.

To realise the full opportunities – and overcome the challenges – will require coordination of planning functions across the region. Local councils cannot do this on their own because of the level of coordination needed across the area, and because they do not have all the levers needed to develop a genuinely integrated plan. Government needs to play a supporting role to bring together a strategic approach at the Arc level to support better planning and ultimately better outcomes for the economy, environment and communities.

1.26 We can only realise the full potential of the Arc if we also take a different approach to planning for growth in the area. That means planning at the right scale, at the right time, for the right level of growth in the right places. We must do so in a way that will allow us to improve the Arc’s natural environment and combat climate change, raise prosperity in lower growth parts of the region, and give existing and future communities a genuine say in the long-term future of their homes and places. That is why calls for an approach of this kind are long-standing and growing – from the National Infrastructure Commission’s recommendation in 2017, to the recent County Councils’ Network report calling for a new approach to strategic planning, to CPRE’s calls for a statutory spatial plan for the area and industry calls for an Arc‑wide planning body.

Housing and planning in the arc

We will plan for the right level of growth in the Arc, to ensure it is a great and affordable place to live and work – both for existing residents and communities of the future. To do this, the spatial framework will identify:

  • the most sustainable locations for new homes, including identifying Opportunity Areas, to support local planning authorities to plan for this growth
  • the infrastructure needed to support sustainable growth in those locations, and the key locations for strategic infrastructure to support sustainable growth
  • locations for environmental enhancement to achieve greater environmental benefits that can allow development to take place elsewhere

The spatial framework will also outline policies to enable sustainable, transport‑led development. This will include policies to enable:

  • new settlements to come forward at the scale and speed needed
  • new development to support habitat recovery, delivery of Local Nature Recovery Strategies, and provision of good-quality green space within schemes
  • brownfield redevelopment and densification, and expansion of existing settlements, in sustainable locations or locations that can be made more sustainable by enhanced access to sustainable transport modes
  • housing needs to be met in full, including delivery of much-needed affordable housing

All policy set in the Spatial Framework will be based on a robust evidence base and local consultation. It will indicate locations but will not include site allocations, and it will not include detailed policies set elsewhere in national policy or better left to local plans.

The government has also consulted on changes to the planning system more broadly. We will respond to the Planning for the Future consultation in due course, and we will work with local planning authorities in the Arc to ensure that the Spatial Framework supports transition to the new system.

So what status will it have. This is non statutory. However it will be government policy just like old style RPG like RPG3a for the Thames Gateway. Inlaw If it were subject to a parliamentary vote, like HS2 it would not be subject to SEA, but if not it would as it covers locations. As they state below

Status and implementation

We will take an integrated approach to planning for the Arc, to ensure we can deliver the sustainable outcomes we want to see. To achieve this, the spatial framework will have the status of national planning and transport policy, providing a strategic framework for local planning.

  • National planning policy status will allow it to have significant weight in the planning system for guiding local plan production and in decision-making. It will sit alongside the National Planning Policy Framework.
  • National transport policy status will allow it to guide the plans prepared by local transport authorities. Transport policies will sit alongside land use policies in the Spatial Framework in a fully integrated single land use and infrastructure plan.

This will provide a clearer, coordinated framework for local transport authorities and local planning authorities when developing their own plans.

To ensure sustainability is at the heart of the Spatial Framework, the government will develop a sustainability appraisal to inform and underpin development of the Spatial Framework. The assessment criteria will be used proactively to embed sustainability into the development of the strategy. The sustainability appraisal will meet the legal requirements of Strategic Environmental Assessment as well as including social and economic factors so that we can best consider the wider impacts of policies as they are developed. We will integrate a Habitats Regulations Assessment into the sustainability appraisal.

We will underpin the Spatial Framework with a robust evidence base. We will work to ensure it meets a sustainable development test so that the Framework provides a clear and useful starting point for local councils.

We expect local planning authorities to continue to develop local plans before the publication of the Spatial Framework. These changes will sit alongside wider planning reforms, and as we take forward our response to the ‘Planning for the Future’ consultation, we will outline transitional arrangements and the role of the Spatial Framework within any new system.

Indicative timeline

The timeline for developing the spatial framework covers three core phases:

1. Developing a vision for the future of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc – We will undertake wide public engagement to shape a vision for the area, through a consultation in summer 2021.

2. Towards a spatial framework – We will develop options for turning the vision into policy, based on engagement and initial evidence gathering and analysis. We will publish these options for consultation in spring 2022.

3. Draft spatial framework – To finalise the spatial framework, we will consider responses to this consultation, and undertake spatial analysis, option testing, impact assessments and stakeholder engagement. We will publish a draft spatial framework for consultation in autumn 2022, with implementation of the final framework shortly after.

…the spatial framework will be visual and map-based, standardised, and based on the latest digital technology, so that it is easy to access and understand.

Map based but with blobs not sites – that will be clear then. This does not chime with the advert only two weeks ago on consulting on 4 new settlement locations on th middle section of east west rail. It makes the same mistake of so many local plan reg 18. consultations – wasting 18 months on ‘dodging the issues papers’ . Visions are spatial visions, you cant have a location free vision. That is a motherhood statement. Get right down to locations this summer and don’t waste our time.

There is one unique innovation. This is both national planning and transport policy. Because it of its scale it is also regional economic policy. This is the first time this has been done, being able to shape regional transport networks. If they, for example, dont enable the consultation to consider the route of east west rail middle section AND new settlement sites along it it could be legally challenged. This is to be enormously welcomed.

There is one key difference to RPG/RP the draft wont be prepared by local authority regional association. Nor does it seem there will be be an examination. It is a return to regional planning studies of the 60s. The irony will be to a government that abolished regional planning is that it really will be the SoS dictating housing numbers.

Roll this one for Northern Powerhouse, Midlands Engine and Thames Estuary.

Note the plan is to ‘2050 and beyond’ as the plan would be adopted in 2022 and the timescale for new settlement planning is 30 years this gives plan to 2052. This lengthening of the planning period means we are now talking far more than 1 million homes. I strongly advised the NIC and government on this point, the previous planning period was too short and the scale of development inadequate. Just how much development from ‘land constrained’ London, as per the original NIC report, is an open question. Note also the plan is firmly ‘jobs led’ in terms of its housing modelling. This means it cannot be solely based on the standard method but an increase based on immigration to fill the jobs, in migration including from land constrained aress such as London. ONS figures are based on forecasts of current trends not projections of employment creation, therefore I expect a figure closer to 1.3 million rather than 1 million.

I note the document says nothing about an Arc wide locally authority led governance structure, wise as Bucks is boycotting it, rather just the vague reference in the covering webpage to an .arc bidy’. as you will see to zero effect.

Interestingly the document is very weak compared to previous announcements on ‘why the arc’, ‘why not Hull’ to coin a phrase. It reeks of being written by staff from a local authority not national/regional planning background. It needs to make that case, as the second highest growth area from London and near London it helps relieve growth pressures, and spread economic prosperity towards East Anglia and the Midlands Engine. Also that in a world of global competion we cannot constrain knowledge based clusters, and setting up new ones takes generations. Growth constrained is not growth diverted to areas needing levelling up. We learned that from 50 years of failed policy trying to constrain the growth of Birmingham and the West Midlands and the policy prior to the 1970s of trying to stop growth of Cambridge. Finally constrains on growth have enormous environmental consequences, with a huge jobs/homes imbalance in the Cities and large towns in the arc leading to increasing lengths of car commuting and carbon emissions. Carbon neutral is negative growth in the Arc is good for the Arc and good for Britain, creating wealth that can be used to level up deprived regions and areas.

Finally I think it is only a matter of time before the full ‘innovation arc’ is included, just as the London Stansted Cambridge Arc was extended. Planning in Herts and Uttlesford has become dysfunctional lately and this gives them a way out. Then the plan area will align with the Englands Economic Hearland LEP and transport strategy.

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