A Surprising Update on the Ox-Cam Arc

Infrastructure and Major Projects Authority – Transforming Infrastructure

Alignment and integration – HMT’s
review of the Green Book for evaluating
investment decisions using a wider
selection of benefits, implementation
of the Public Value Framework to align
decisions to priority outcomes, and
updating IPA Assurance criteria to
reflect wider priorities to support more
integrated design at the start of projects,
such as the Oxford-Cambridge Arc and in
the Thames Estuary. The government has
endorsed the National Infrastructure
Commission’s design principles for
national infrastructure and committed
to embedding them in infrastructure
projects going forward…

Example: Oxford-Cambridge Arc
Spatial Framework Data
Observatory Pilot
In February 2021, the government
set out how it intends to develop
a long-term Spatial Framework
for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.
In line with the commitment
made at the launch of the Spatial
Framework process, we are
planning to undertake wide
public engagement and
consultation this summer to
shape a vision for the area, also
seeking views on our approach
to using data and evidence to
support the Spatial Framework.
The intention is to build a robust
evidence base to inform
development of the Framework,
but at present data across local
planning authorities, government
agencies and infrastructure
providers is in different formats,
often inaccessible, and regularly
held in documents rather than
stored as data. In line with wider
proposals in last year’s Planning
for the Future white paper, the
government wants to use this
opportunity to support better
use of data and digital tools in
local planning and development
of the Framework. The OxCam
Unit in MHCLG recently
completed a discovery into
users and needs of the people
who will use or benefit from
creating a shared, open source
digital evidence base across the
Arc, acting as an exemplar
nationally. Having built a strong
understanding of the user needs
in the discovery phase, we are
now planning to build prototypes
this summer, through the alpha
phase of the project, focusing on
solving the end-to-end service
journey for the production of
the evidence base. This digital
platform will provide the basis
for much more effective local
and joint planning and
investment, through a common,
cross-boundary, standardised
and accessible evidence base –
and thereby encourage
greater collaboration between
local authorities.

Local Natural Capital Pilot
The LNCP project is the first
project delivering under the Arc
Environment pillar. It is a Defra
Group-led project (cross-Defra,
Natural England, Forestry
Commission and Environment
Agency), with a team hosted by
the Environment Agency. It was
conceived to develop a local
natural capital plan (LNCP)
for the OxCam Arc in order
to support the delivery of
environmental protection and
enhancement as part of the
planned growth and investment
within the Arc. Within the
25 Year Environment Plan,
the government committed
to LNCPs, with the aim of
embedding natural capital
thinking into growth plans.
A secondary aim of the OxCam
LNCP project is to provide
a scalable and replicable
framework for local natural
capital plans elsewhere.

Looks like “pragmatic’ zoning for growth sites will still go ahead – FT

It was difficult to read the runes of the Times story over the weekend. Ministers had already signalled in parliament an end to the rip it up and start again approach, signalling pragmatism. As long advocated here even to the extent of publishing s draft planning act to show how it could be done.

There was a contradiction though between the headline suggesting scrapping of whole reform agenda, and text which only suggested scrapping of idea of a comprehensive zoning system replacing everything. Which was never needed as nowhere in Europe has such a system and the last thing you want to do is ape the legal basis of America n zoning. The times story however was unclear. Would growth sites have ‘as of right’ permission in principle or just another presumption, which would be meaningless. How many presumptions do we need for housing 4 5 10? The FT story today gives more clues. Its all about making Bob Seeley and the housing hosting nimby what’s app group think they have won. When in fact they have been cleverly outflanked.


Jenrick also signalled that the government had heeded criticisms of its reforms to the planning system, which seeks to liberalise laws and make it easier to build. The changes are opposed by a significant number of Conservative MPs representing seats in the south of England.

“We’ve spent the best part of a year listening to members of parliament, councils, members of the public and I think we will bring forward a set of proposals which are sensible, pragmatic improvements to the current planning system, which all reasonable people will be able to get behind.”

On Saturday, the Times reported that plans to rip up the planning application process and replace them with a zonal system would be dropped. One MCHLG insider said: “We’ve had a huge period of engagement and we do understand people have concerns” but declined to comment on whether “growth sites” for development with automatic planning permission would be introduced.

The NI vote has shown that there is unlikely to be a major rebellion. And as an EVEL would require pretty much every whats app Nimby MP to rebel – unthinkable. Prgamtic planning reform is going ahead. The real test though is hether it makes sensible proposals for simplification of planning law and strategic planning.