‘Levelling up’ – can the Ox-Cam Arc achieve this?

Or is ‘Supersizing’ Cambridge the ‘Belt and Road’ to disaster?

A post in collaboration with the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations

Contents:

What is the Ox-Cam Arc?

Map of the Ox-Cam Arc on the gov.uk website

The Oxford-Cambridge Arc Policy paper, published 18th February 2021 by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (formerly the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government) states:

The Oxford-Cambridge Arc (the Arc) is a globally significant area between Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge. It is formed of five ceremonial counties: Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire.

It supports over two million jobs, adds over £110 billion to the economy every year and houses one of the fastest growing economies in England.

There is an opportunity, recognised by government and local partners, to build a better economic, social and environmental future for the area. With high-quality, well-connected and sustainable communities making the Arc an even more beautiful place to live, work and visit.

Oxford-Cambridge Arc Policy paper, published 18th February 2021

‘High-quality’, ‘well-connected’, ‘sustainable’, ‘even more beautiful’ – what’s not to like? Or is the ‘opportunity’, no more than ‘high quality’ hot air, helping ‘well-connected’, people and PLCs ‘sustain’ high earnings?

Oxford-Cambridge arc: “Most people don’t know what it is”

Not sure yourself? This review By Ben Schofield & Pete Cooper, BBC East highlights some of the concerns. (Selected quotes below, click the link above to view the full article.)

The arc is being imposed on the residents.

The government has been thinking of the idea of an Oxford-Cambridge arc for over six years and this is first time the public has been asked for feedback.

Lara Davenport-Ray, Huntingdonshire Green Party

We’re getting good feedback from a wide variety of people and that will provide really helpful input to the policy propositions that we will generate over the next few months into 2022

Chris Pincher, Minister for Housing

I think it’s important, if you are going to develop such a long piece of land, you don’t leave us as a housing estate for the big cities at either end.

Business owner Philippa Shoobert, of engineering and software firm Smart Control Solutions, St Neots

I’m worried the Oxford-Cambridge arc and level of development they’re proposing is going to detract from our character as a historic town, and the rural nature of surrounding towns and villages, and I don’t think building that many houses will help us achieve our zero-carbon goals.

Councillor Stephen Ferguson, Mayor of St Neots

See also The Oxford-Cambridge Arc – Government ambition and joint declaration between Government and local partners (HM Government publication).


Will this corridor ‘Supersize’ Cambridge?

Over 230 people signed up to attend the virtual Supersize Cambridge event which followed the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations‘ Annual General Meeting on Thursday 7th October 2021.

Speakers examined the potential threat which they believe the Ox-Cam Arc poses to Cambridge’s residents, and discussed who stood to benefit from the proposals.

A full video of this meeting is available, on YouTube here.

The Times, Guardian, Financial Times and others have reported on the concerns about China’s growing involvement in Cambridge. Residents are asking, “Is Cambridge and the Ox-Cam Arc part of China’s Belt and Road initiative?”

Wendy Blythe, Chair, Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations, addressing the ‘Supersize Cambridge’ event

Ms Blythe highlighted a tweet, earlier this year, by Ant Breach, senior researcher for Centre for Cities, a think tank funded by Cambridge University Chancellor, Lord Sainsbury, in which Breach said, “I make no apologies for demanding growth and a spicy hot labour market.”

People are asking, “Who are the interests promoting this ‘spicy hot labour market?'”

Wendy Blythe [ibid]

Developers and house builders?

 The beneficiaries of such development will not be local people but shareholders of global companies and the losers will be the vulnerable across a broad range of species. It was a stimulating set of talks.

On-line participant

Who are the Arc’s ‘movers-and-shakers’?

On 21st September 2017,  the creation of a new lectureship, in Chinese urban development, funded through a gift of £1m to Cambridge University’s Department of Land Economy, was announced after a signing ceremony held in Hong Kong. The donor was Justin Chiu, a director of CK Asset Holdings, which owns Greene King, the Bury St Edmunds based brewer and pub retailer.

CK Asset Holdings, a property investment company, was founded by the Hong Kong businessman Li Ka Shing and is now chaired by his son Victor, as is its sister company, CK Hutchison Holdings. The latter is another Hong Kong based conglomerate, whose UK investments include the majority of UK Power Networks, Northumbrian Water Group, the 3 mobile phone network and Hutchison Port Holdings (a private holding company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, operators of Harwich International Port, London Thamesport and Felixstowe Port, much of the freehold of the latter being owned by Trinity College).

Writing in Cambridge University Land Society Magazine 2019 (p 108), Professor Colin Lizieri, then Head of the Department of Land Economy and Grosvenor Professor of Real Estate Finance, said:

We […] welcomed Dr Li Wan as the new Chinese Urban Development lecturer (the post funded by a generous donation from Dr Justin Chiu). Li’s expertise lies in spatial modelling of cities and infrastructure. After completing his PhD (in the Architecture department at Cambridge), he has been working in the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and developing models for cities in China, in Korea and in the UK. His knowledge of modelling and the use of large digital data sets will be very valuable for both our research and teaching and complements Dr Elisabete Silva’s work with the Interdisciplinary Spatial Analysis Lab (LISA) and with Dr Thies Lindenthal’s big data work as part of our growing emphasis on technological change and transformation of urban land and property markets.

Professor Colin Lizieri, Cambridge University Land Society Magazine 2019 (p108)

The postholder, Dr Li Wan, worked on Land Use-based Integrated Sustainability Assessment (LUISA) modelling for the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review (CPIER).  The modelling work, for which he was the lead from 2017-2019, was funded by the business group Cambridge Ahead and the Cambridge and Peterborough Combined Authority. To download a high resolution version of the CPIER Final Report (PDF), click here.

It might be interesting to read (excerpts of) an article by Dr Li Wan, in Cambridge University Land Society Magazine 2019, since CPIER is cited in the government’s Local Industrial Strategy in support of the Oxford Cambridge Arc and in the Greater Cambridge Employment Land and Economic Development Strategy which justifies employment  ‘need’ for building forty-nine thousand houses. Click to read/download the Greater Cambridge Employment Land and Economic Development Evidence Study, Final Report, November 2020.

Planning for growth – the application of a new spatial equilibrium model for Cambridge and Beijing

By Dr Li Wan, University Lecturer in Chinese Urban development, Department of Land Economy BArch, MPhil, PhD (Cantab)

This short article introduces the application of a new spatial equilibrium model (LUISA) developed by Cambridge scholars for supporting the strategic planning of two fast- growing city regions – the Greater Cambridge in the UK and the Greater Beijing in China.

Greater Cambridge is an economic hot spot where growth has outpaced the rest of the UK throughout the past decade. But the economic success comes with a price: house prices have soared – the city’s average house price is now 16 times the median salary; worsening traffic congestion and air pollution is threatening the vitality of the city; and public services are being put under strain by the growing population. …

To quantify the possible futures of the Greater Cambridge city region, the modelling research started with a ‘business as usual’ scenario, assuming that the region grows according to current trends of employment growth and local plans for housing. This scenario showed that even a modest rise in jobs would lead to considerable wage pressure in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire and an unmanageable amount of in- commuting which would choke growth. The LUISA model was then used to explore a range of alternative spatial strategies that aim to balancing (sic) the growth of employment, housing and transport infrastructure:

  • Densification – concentrating new employment and housing within the city boundaries: this can accommodate the largest amount of jobs and people around existing and new rail hubs, but could risk worsening congestion and air quality in spite of convenient public transport access;
  • Fringe growth – extending urban areas around the edges of the city: this brings the highest financial returns with more modest building construction costs, but needs to use Green Belt land and will increase car use;
  • Dispersal – encouraging growth to go to market towns or newly created settlements beyond the Green Belt: this could spread the growth and gain social and environmental benefits, but would rely on the willingness of companies to move away from current centres of high productivity;
  • Transport corridors – developing new sites for jobs and housing
    along existing and new fast public transit services that emanate from Cambridge: this offers space for continued growth of existing business clusters while unlocking potential of new sites that could attract growth, but this requires the highest infrastructure investment.
Dr Li Wan, University Lecturer in Chinese Urban development, Department of Land Economy BArch, MPhil, PhD (Cantab), in Cambridge University Land Society Magazine 2019 (pp 114-116)

Click the link in the citation (above) to read/download the publication cited.


But, the Ox-Cam Arc’s stated objective is to “enhance the area’s natural environment and biodiversity.” What’s wrong with that?

Place-making

With a strategic approach to planning for growth, we can enhance the area’s natural environment and biodiversity, ensure communities and businesses have access to the infrastructure they need, and ensure new development is more affordable and beautiful so that it enhances places across the Arc.

Oxford-Cambridge Arc Policy paper, published 18th February 2021

So what are the objections?

David Rogers, Emeritus Professor of Ecology at the University of Oxford, representing the Stop the Arc Group, gave a keynote speech on how increasing house building in the areas linking Oxford and Cambridge by 53% to 61%, when the average need, nationally, is assessed at a 13% increase, is unsustainable for our environment. Water shortages, pollution and loss of biodiversity will be the outcome, despite planners claiming that they are going to “double nature”.  It was pointed out that politicians still follow the mantra that economic growth is the gauge of societal and electoral advantage, ignoring our environment’s fitness for human habitation.

 The voices of the people need to be heard loud and clear, and the government consultation has too many “leading” questions for it to deliver accurate results. That is why the campaigning group Stop the Arc has created an alternative questionnaire to that created by the government for the stage 1 consultation. The survey is quick to complete (about 5 five minutes) so PLEASE take the time to do it, and then to pass on the link to as many people as possible.

Campaign to Protect Rural England, Cambridgeshire & Peterborough

You can take part in Stop the Arc Group’s 5-minute survey of the proposed OxCam Arc, here.

#Ecocide, adds Monica Hone…

Supersize Cambridge event, contribution from Monica Hone

‘Supersize’ resisters are in good company…

We’re abusing rivers in this country on a scale that we have never done at any point in the past. And yet, here we are, the proud possessor of 85% of the world’s total supply of chalk streams and not one of them is in good environmental health.

Feargal Sharkey, former Undertones frontman, on his love of fishing and saving chalk streams
Feargal Sharkey fishing on the River Lea in Hertfordshire where he is chairman of the Amwell Magna Fishery Credit: ITV News Anglia

ITV News Anglia reporter Hannah Pettifer caught up with Feargal Sharkey on the banks of the River Lea in Hertfordshire, on Tuesday 22nd June 2021. To read a summary and view the report on the ITV News Anglia website, click here.

Spot the ‘Undertone’ of Sharkey’s contempt for the Environment Agency…


See also, The Oxford-Cambridge Arc; An Environmental Catastrophe – with Professor David Rogers.

Anyone for Greenwashing?

As we rebuild our economic life, we should do it on green principles, averting a crisis many times greater than the coronavirus: climate breakdown and the collapse of our life-support systems.

This means no more fossil fuel-based infrastructure. Even existing infrastructure, according to climate scientists, could push us past crucial thresholds. It means an end to megaprojects whose main purpose is enriching construction companies.

Perhaps the definitive example of such projects in the UK is the Oxford-Cambridge Arc. It’s a plan to build a conurbation of 1 million homes – twice the size of Birmingham – from Oxford to Cambridge. This is far beyond the region’s housing demand. Its purpose, government agencies admit, is not to meet the need for homes, but “to maximise [the area’s] economic potential”.

But [recently], a new campaign came to the rescue. It has rebranded the project Nature’s Arc”. Apparently, with some adjustments, this massive exercise in concrete pouring “could show how development can restore nature, rather than destroy it”. Building up to a million homes, the new PR blitz tells us, is “the perfect opportunity to invest in nature, improve people’s lives and realise the green recovery.”

How did wildlife groups start collaborating in the destruction of nature?
George Monbiot, The Guardian, June 2020

Resources are under pressure

Cambridge and the surrounding area has always been a great place to live. But what will it be like in 20 years? The city is facing a period of huge change. The local population is growing and getting older. There is an urgent need for more housing. Resources are under pressure. And transport networks are becoming increasingly congested.

Peter Landshoff, Professor Emeritus at Cambridge University, speaking in 2013, as reported in Cambridge Network’s CambridgePPF welcomes launch of Cambridge Ahead.

Two of CambridgePPF’s trustees – Matthew Bullock and Peter Landshoff – are members of the Cambridge Ahead board and are helping to put together its initial projects. Matthew Bullock is a member of the project group looking to ‘Clarify The Growth Agenda’ and Peter Landshoff is involved in the body’s work to ‘Improve the Quality of Life’ in the city.

Cambridge Network, ibid

Economic Bonfire

Business, enterprise and employment are flourishing in Greater Cambridge. But housing and infrastructure are struggling to match the jobs boom, and gaps in social equality keep widening. 

University academics are connecting their insights, data and algorithms to find solutions to the area’s ‘growing pains’.

“Economic growth is like a bonfire,” says Matthew Bullock. “You can get a bonfire going and expand it as long as you keep feeding the centre. But you can’t pick a bonfire up and move it somewhere else.”

Bullock is talking about the economy of Greater Cambridge, where a staggering level of growth has outpaced the rest of the UK over the past decade. As one of the founders of the business and academic organisation Cambridge Ahead, Bullock has been helping to shape a vision for Cambridge and the people who live and work in the area.

“Growth here comes up through the floorboards,” says Bullock, who was one of the original financiers of the ‘Cambridge Phenomenon’ – the development and growth in high-tech businesses in and around the city since the late 1970s – and is now Master of St Edmund’s College.

How to tend an economic bonfire, by Dr Louise Walsh

Growth requires sustainable infrastructure

The debate about growth around Cambridge is still far from settled.

The government wants growth because it yields more tax revenues to pay for pensions, healthcare and all the other public services without raising tax rates. Why Cambridge? Because jobs here are, roughly speaking, more profitable than elsewhere in the country. In part that is because of the concentration of talent and new ideas within the university, research and start-up ecosystem.

For transport, that means planning further extensions to the rail network, giving serious consideration to creating a tram network, and building a major transport hub at the Girton Interchangetravel hubs in every large village, and hundreds of miles of new cycleways linking everywhere.

Edward Leigh, leader of Smarter Cambridge Transport from an opinion piece first published in the Cambridge Independent on 13th October 2021.

Read Edward’s full post on the Smarter Cambridge Transport website, here.

What is happening to bus services around Cambridge?

Stagecoach East is far from unique in having staffing problems – and they’re not the only operator to have been cancelling services recently as a consequence. In order to (try to) provide a little more stability for passengers, they will be implementing a number of changes to Cambridge-area services from Sunday 24th October.

Cambridge Area Bus Users – Stagecoach changes from 24th October

With passenger numbers below pre-Covid levels, some operators are reducing journeys on higher frequency routes in order to minimise the number of drivers required. This runs counter to the ethos of the Bus Recovery Grant and to the needs of passengers. In marginal and rural areas where services were already basic, the impact is particularly severe with people now struggling to access work, education, apprenticeships and healthcare.

Letter to The Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport, from Bus Users UK

“We need to give people better transport choices.
And fast.”

‘Slow travel’ is all the rage in the Sunday colour supplements, but has less of a pull when balancing up how to get from Cambridge to Huntingdon on an overcast Wednesday morning in October. We know there’s an urgent need to reduce the number of journeys made by private car, which means making the change a realistic option for more people. So it seemed like a good idea to remind myself what the bus journey was like.

Unsurprisingly, the trip showed how much more investment and imagination is needed in public transport.

Sam Davies, Independent City Councillor for Queen Edith’s ward in Cambridge, update 17th October 2021. (Read Sam’s full post here.)

Interestingly, Centre for Cities hosted an event to discuss the next steps for improving the quality of bus services and their contribution to the economy, supported by bus and rail operator Abellio.

A brief summary – Centre for Cities calls for mayors to reverse outdated bus service – can be found on the Abellio website, here.

Centre for Cities’ report, supported by three bus operators, calls on England’s metro mayors to take control of bus networks to double passenger numbers. The main recommendations are:

  • All metro mayors [should] step up and use their powers to franchise bus services in order to improve passenger uptake and access to buses.
  • Government should simplify the franchising process and back this model everywhere.
  • Centre for Cities criticises deregulation for creating ‘local private monopolies’ that failed to deliver on the promise of better services and increased choice for passengers.

And what of ‘levelling up’?

[O]ne cabinet minister [of Boris Johnson’s government] told The Independent: “It will take 10 years and there will be some pain along the way, particularly in the early part.

“A lot of it depends on building infrastructure – roads and railways and so on – and it takes time to complete and time for people to feel the benefit.”

‘Levelling up’ will take a decade and there will be pain along the way, say ministers – Andrew Woodcock, Political Editor, Independent, Thursday 7th October 2021

Do we need to slash ‘planning bureaucracy’?

Levelling Up will fall flat on its face

Recent statements by the Government and Tory think tanks seek to justify their repeated attacks on the planning system as a contribution to the Levelling Up agenda of the Johnson government. [However] planning reforms will do nothing to level up or reduce glaring geographical inequalities in our country: in fact, they will make these disparities even worse.

In 2021 we are facing the challenge of possible new planning ‘reforms’ based upon […] the idea that planning is the reason for falling housing affordability so relaxations of planning will provide the solution.

[M]ore planning permissions will lead developers and land owners to develop more and bring prices down. It has yet to be explained why developers should continue to build when selling prices are falling, indeed they seem to be adept at avoiding ever doing that by trickling-out their completions slowly enough to maintain high selling prices.

But what planning reforms would support long term locality improvement for the worst hit areas? We can state six broad criteria to start with:

  • Reforms must give localities public steering strength, by withdrawing the recent rash of permitted development rights (which strip places and communities of power) and ensuring local plans can take back control of how space is used.
  • Within localities, reforms must strengthen the roles played by citizens and communities, without whose active creativity and support neither Levelling Up nor adequate response to the climate emergency will be possible.
  • Reforms must enable decisions at the right level, by creating strong strategic plans for economic development and housing with long term funding attached.
  • Planning must make public health a key objective of decisions about new development.
  • Reforms must make zero-carbon a core requirement of every Plan and every substantialplanning application decision.
  • Social housing & special needs housing should be prioritised to help reverse themechanism which makes housing worsen inequality.
Levelling Up: the role of planning
By an independent group of planning practitioners and academics, hosted on the Town and Country Planning Association website, here.

The Ox-Cam Arc and the growth of Cambridge are issues which affect us all – those living in and around Mill Road, in Cambridge, all of the surrounding villages and our nearby market towns. The post is open for contributions. You are welcome to continue the debate.

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Martin L-S
Martin L-S
Guest
28 October 2021 17:54

‘Levelling up’ – can the Ox-Cam Arc achieve this?

Of course not. Encouraging developers to have a building spree between Cambridge and Oxford can only have one effect: concentrating even more activity in this area, rather than spreading it up north.

The housing crisis will only be solved when government starts to invest seriously – as in much, much more – in the post-industrial cities of the north, so that they become far more attractive to move to. Only then will the north-south divide start to disappear.

I don’t see any serious sign of this happening from government. HS2 is the classic example of a scheme that is supposedly about benefitting the north, but really will just make it easier for people to go down to London. If the government really wanted rail benefits for the north, it would have been building the Leeds section first, and would be spending the money on the London section electrifying and improving the existing northern rail network. Heavens, they’ve only finally just got rid of the pacers.

Until northern cities are improved, Cambridge will continue to see speculative development in the fields around the area, over-development of the villages, badly-designed estates in Cambridge, and house prices and rental costs that are excessive, resulting in long-term social imbalances.

Mick Brown
Mick Brown
Guest
27 October 2021 07:30

The gentrification of Mill Road is the fag-end of the Ox-Cam Arc which is a gravy train for architects, planners and developers.
The whole careers of a professional class will be guaranteed by the scheme.
The design of the Romsey parklet was carried out free of charge by architects in the hope of future contracts when the area is redeveloped.
While telling local residents that their lives are being saved from the pollution of cars passing through the area, local councillors and councils are closely linked to the Greater Cambridge Partnership which, in turn, is linked to the Arc.
Local democracy is being bypassed by decisions being made by unelected bodies known as Citizens Assemblies.

Martin L-S
Martin L-S
Guest
Reply to  Mick Brown
28 October 2021 17:47

The design of the Romsey parklet was carried out free of charge by architects in the hope of future contracts when the area is redeveloped.

What complete and utter nonsense. It’s amazing how some people, well one person, comes up with this conspiracy theory rubbish.

Edward Jenkins
Guest
26 October 2021 18:40

Synonyms for the word ‘Growth’ are Lump and Tumor.

Words with similar meanings are Cancer and Malygnancy.

All unwanted when in a relatively healthy state, and deadly to a weakening system!