Countryside charity, CPRE, has called for ‘clarity and transparency’ from Bedford Borough Council around future plans for the Oxford – Cambridge Arc.
According to the government document outlining the project, “The arching sweep of land between Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge has a unique opportunity to become an economic asset of international standing – a place that demonstrates the very best of British business and innovation, and for the benefit of local communities and the country as a whole.
“The Arc already contains globally renowned universities, at the heart of a business, science and technology ecosystem that makes it one of the most exciting economic growth opportunities in the world.
“Realising this potential can mean more jobs, of a higher quality, for existing communities and future residents, and can encourage international investment and exports for the benefit of local businesses and the national economy.”
In March 2020, Robert Jenrick MP, the Housing Minister, launched the “Planning for the Future” document.
This outlines the government’s commitment of over £1 billion of allocations from the Housing Infrastructure Fund to build nearly 70,000 new homes in high demand areas across the UK.
It will also provide nearly £650 million of funding to help rough sleepers into permanent accommodation.
CPRE Bedfordshire has called for clarity and transparency from Bedford Borough Council and nearby Central Bedfordshire Council on these plans.
They have asked Bedford Borough Council what, if any, discussions have taken place between the mayor, the council, the government and the HCA (Homes & Communities Agency) about development plans for Bedford and the surrounding area.
A spokesperson for CPRE Bedfordshire said, “If either Council takes on the status of a Development Corporation as described in the “Planning for the Future” document, it could mean that local residents will be excluded from the democratic process of deciding where housing development will take place – the decisions will have already been made by councillors and the government.”
CPRE Bedfordshire have raised concerns that the two councils have plans for very large developments in the countryside.
A Borough Council spokesperson said, “The Homes & Communities Agency was replaced by Homes England in January 2018.
“The Mayor [of Bedford Borough] has spoken to senior civil servants to ask how any development corporation would work and what its powers would be.
“The Council has been asked to attend a meeting with Homes England later this month to ‘explore a vision for the future growth of Bedford to inform both the Local Plan review and wider OxCam growth scenarios’.
“The Council is required by Government to submit a new Local Plan for inspection by January 2023. This is because of the need to plan for longer term requirements, in particular as they relate to the Oxford to Cambridge Arc, as soon as possible.
“The Borough Council will continue to be open and transparent in conversation and consultation with the public as we find out more about the Arc and the potential opportunities it could bring for the Borough.
“The first stage of this approach will be an “Issues and Options” consultation which will take place later this year.”
Commenting, planning consultant Cllr Phillippa Martin-Moran-Bryant, said, “It’s vital that residents are clear on the process of developing the Oxford – Cambridge Arc and how they are being represented at meetings between government agencies and councils.
“Fundamentally local communities need to understand how they can influence the process and what the outcomes could be.
“Bedford Borough Council needs to be fully transparent in its approach to planning and development on controversial decisions on policy and applications as many thousands of residents across north Bedfordshire will be affected.”