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Rethink OxCam Arc or you’ll damage nature and climate, say RSPB, Wildlife Trust, CPRE and Woodland Trust

Conservation charities have demanded that the government urgently rethinks its Oxford-Cambridge Arc plans, warning that it risks damaging impacts on nature and the climate.

The RPSB, Wildlife Trusts, The Woodland Trust and CPRE teamed up for the co-ordinated message and urged the public to respond to the ongoing consultation by demanding these issues are prioritised.

A map of the OxCam Arc. Image: MHCLG (49734004)
A map of the OxCam Arc. Image: MHCLG (49734004)

The charities said the government’s ambitions for rapid growth and development in the corridor meant it was bypassing critical processes that would safeguard the environment.

And they claimed the government had so far ignored calls from council leaders, universities and businesses that would reduce the environmental impact of growth, contribute towards nature recovery and help tackle climate change.

It is expected that a million homes could be built in the Arc area, which covers Cambridgeshire, Peterborough, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire, as the government seeks to double the region’s economic output by 2050 to more than £200billion. Between 476,500 and 1.1 million additional jobs are expected to be created after the government vowed to “unleash the area’s potential as a global innovation powerhouse”.

The OxCam Arc. Picture: Google Earth Pro (51371636)
The OxCam Arc. Picture: Google Earth Pro (51371636)

But launching the Rethink the Arc campaign, Emma Marsh, RSPB England director, warned: “If the government’s plans for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc are to go ahead, they must make good on their stated aim for the Arc to be a world-leader in tackling the nature and climate crisis.

“The plans cannot be allowed to circumvent environmental safeguards designed to protect nature and they absolutely must adopt ambitious targets for restoring nature and tackling climate change.

“Nature is critical to the health of people and communities, the environment, and the economy. Protecting and restoring nature is vital for any transition to a greener, more sustainable future. That is why we are urging government to rethink the Arc to ensure their plans protect and restore nature.”

East West Rail Company's proposals for the approach to Cambridge. Map: East West Rail Company (47707364)
East West Rail Company's proposals for the approach to Cambridge. Map: East West Rail Company (47707364)

The charities pointed to the development of proposals for new settlements between Bedford and Cambridge ahead of sustainability and environmental assessments of the government’s overall growth plans.

And they said the East West Rail Company was in the process of choosing a route for the line between Bletchley and Cambridge, which will determine where new housing is built, before a strategic environmental assessment of the options.

Matt Jackson, conservation director at Beds, Cambs and Northants Wildlife Trust, said: “There is a window of opportunity here to make a big difference for wildlife in one of the most nature-depleted parts of the UK. The OxCam Arc was supposed to be an example of economic and housing growth planned with environmental sustainability at its heart. But what we’re seeing is a worrying lack of ambition when it comes to both protecting nature and creating new habitats for threatened species.

Water vole emerging from a drainage pipe
Water vole emerging from a drainage pipe

“We can’t continue to build homes, offices and roads for humans without thinking about homes, habitats and landscapes for birds, mammals, butterflies and bees.”

Andrew Wood, spatial planning lead for the CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England), added: “It’s alarming that the consultation document doesn’t mention the environmental ambitions that local leaders and stakeholders had previously published. In the midst of climate and nature emergencies the Arc vision must show how it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, restore nature, soils and rivers, enhance landscapes, enable sustainable farming and a countryside that works for everyone. If it doesn’t do so, then the Arc is set up to fail.”

The government launched its consultation document on the spatial framework for the Arc in July, following a policy paper in February.

The document noted that the region is home to 200,000 hectares of statutory designated nature conservation sites and a further 50,000 hectares of local wildlife sites, plus 31,000 hectares of ancient woodland. Some 76 per cent of the Arc land is farmland.

The OxCam Arc (42563212)
The OxCam Arc (42563212)

Toby Bancroft, Woodland Trust director for Central England, said: “It’s astounding that the government has set out a draft vision for the growth Arc which does not even mention the environmental ambitions which that have been agreed by a majority of the Arc’s council leaders as well as many of its universities and leading business organisations.

“At a time when there is urgency to act to start reversing the serious twin climate and biodiversity crisis we now face, plans for nature should be front and centre, with vision and ambition – committing to the doubling of land managed for nature and an increase in tree cover from 7.4 per cent to 19 per cent – which could be transformative if delivered sensitively and at scale. Government needs to rethink their vision for the growth Arc to ensure that these vital environmental considerations are included.”

Responding to the charities’ warnings, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, told the Cambridge Independent: “We reject these claims. We’re determined that the Oxford-Cambridge Arc will be a unique place to live and work, protecting and enhancing the built and natural environment while helping to combat and build resilience to climate change.

“We will continue to work closely with local partners to ensure the area and project deliver this long-term legacy.”

The Arc plans come at a time when Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council are working on proposals for the next Greater Cambridge Local Plan, which earmarks nearly 49,000 new homes for the region, but pledges to be the ‘greenest’ drawn up to date.

It seeks to concentrate the majority on existing development sites, like Waterbeach, Eddington and Northstowe, and urban locations, such as North East Cambridge and the airport site at Cambridge East.

Join the charities’ Rethink the Arc campaign at https://e-activist.com/page/88021/action/1?ea.tracking.

Read more

Seeking a vision for Oxford-Cambridge Arc spatial framework

Oxford-Cambridge Arc: Government pledges to create ‘premier growth corridor’ while protecting environment

Why we must be sceptical of those pushing the growth agenda for Cambridge

The vision for the OxCam Arc explained: Doubling economic output, doubling nature and building one million new homes

Exploring the wildlife impacts of East West Rail approach to city

Greater Cambridge Local Plan’s 48,794 new homes explained - including all 19 newly identified sites for development

Interactive map: See the sites where nearly 49,000 new homes are proposed for Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire

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