Charities call for urgent Oxford-Cambridge Arc rethink to protect environment

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OxCam arc environment countryside
Image: RSPB

Several high-profile charities have called upon Bedfordians to take part in the Ox-Cam consultation to make sure the Government includes wildlife and countryside protection in its development plans.

The RSPB, CPRE, and The Woodland Trust, alongside local branches of The Wildlife Trust, say Ox-Cam arc plans, which Bedford Borough sits at the centre of, need an urgent rethink.

They say proposals for significant new housing and infrastructure development are bypassing critical safeguards and not taking into consideration the impact they’ll have on our environment.

Increased house building and infrastructure development, including new towns between Oxford and Cambridge, are currently in consultation until 12 October 2021.

Listing where they feel the Government is failing, the charities claim the Government is “bypassing critical steps and processes designed to protect nature”.

  • Proposals for new settlements between Bedford and Cambridge are being developed ahead of sustainability and environmental assessments of the Government’s overall growth plans.
    • East West Rail is moving to choose a route for the new line between Bletchley and Cambridge, which will determine where new housing is built but has not been subject to Strategic Environmental Assessment of the options and their environmental impacts.
  • The consultation does not support or even mention the environmental ambitions adopted by a majority of the Arc’s council leaders as well as many of its universities and leading business organisations.
    • These ambitions aim to reduce the environmental impact of growth and make a positive contribution to nature recovery and tackling climate change but have been ignored by Government since their publication in March this year.
  • Government has yet to announce any specific commitments to or targets for restoring nature in the Arc or adopting higher standards of environmental sustainability in the new houses and infrastructure its proposals will see built.

Proactive protection

The Government is being called upon to rethink its plans to offer proactive protection for the environment for the Arc so that, if they go ahead, they protect the natural environment along its path.

“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,” said Emma Marsh, RSPB Director.

“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.”

Play your part

Bedfordians are being urged to make sure they take part in the consultation to make sure all local opinion is heard.

The charities have created a portal for you to leave your views that they will then add to their responses in time for the consultation deadline.

You can add your thoughts here.

Andrew Wood from the CPRE 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.”

Stop the Arc

Meanwhile, the former No Expressway Group is calling on the Ox-Cam Arc plans to be halted altogether.

The group successfully fought off the proposed Oxford to Cambridge Expressway, which was cancelled in March 2021.

Now, they’ve adapted their remit to fight the Ox-Cam Arc which they say is a national issue.

“Our environment is a national asset which should be protected for all us, our health and well-being. This is a national and not just a local issue,” they say on their website.

Supported by North Bedfordshire MP, Richard Fuller (Conservative), and others, they staged a pavement event outside parliament yesterday (7 September) to highlight what they say is “overwhelming distrust in the government”.

(l-R) Richard Fuller MP (Con), Layla Moran MP (Lib Dem) and Greg Smith MP (Con) supported Stop the Arc’s pavement event outside parliament

“The Parliamentary authorities are careless and uncoordinated in fulfilling their obligations to allow the public access to their elected representatives,” said the group’s spokesperson.

The group say that due to retaining covid restrictions and banning visitors from parliament, they have “failed to set an example to a country they expect to return to work”.

“So we ended up on the pavement,” they added, “fortunately on a sunny day, but wasted time and expense preparing a display for MPs.

“Parliament’s management uncoordinated approach is as outdated as their job titles – it is just as well there are not managing a national crisis.

“This is a cockup not a conspiracy but no less unsatisfactory.”

Stop The Arc are also calling on local people to make their views known via their survey which you can find here.

You can take part in the official consultation here.

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