The Government is currently running its public consultation on what the “Vision” for the Oxford to Cambridge Growth Arc should be. However, the whole framing of the consultation shows that the Government has already made up its mind on what its priority for the Arc is: the economy. The consultation is premised on the need for economic growth and development across the region, without asking people whether that is the right priority, or whether a vision for the Arc area is needed at all. A review on the economics of biodiversity, produced by Professor Dasgupta and published earlier this year, found that our traditional approach to growth is unsustainable because it fails to factor in the damage done to nature. In short, we need to change our approach and fast.
Government must ReThink the Arc to avoid environmental catastrophe
The Government’s plans for the OxCam Arc do not properly consider the impact on nature. As long as this is the case, they are a failure. You cannot plan for sustainable growth without factoring in the costs to the environment. But even that is the bare minimum. As it stands, the Government will only create funds to restore nature across the Arc if development takes place. Funding for nature’s restoration cannot be solely dependent on development. We have taken and used so much of what nature offers for generations, without paying it back. Now is the time for ambitious plans to restore nature on a landscape scale, in its own right. The Government’s current approach falls short – it is too little, too late.
If it goes ahead, the Arc will set a precedent for future development across the country - so the Government needs to get it right. The Government’s consultation seems to be promising that the Arc can be everything for everyone, without addressing the conflicts between competing demands. Development does not always need to be a disaster for nature, but more often than not, it is. At a time when the Government is looking at reforming our planning system, we cannot allow plans for the Arc to be a threat to the places we love. A dramatic change of approach and priorities is needed if the Arc is going to be anything but more of the same.
If it goes ahead, the Arc will set a precedent for future development across the country - so the Government needs to get it right.
We are in the middle of a nature and climate emergency. Nature and the environment need to be at the heart of decision making locally and in Westminster. Local authority leaders have tried to prioritise nature with their Arc Environmental Principles which aim to protect, restore, and enhance the environment across the region. However, the Government’s consultation ignores them. The Government also does not commit to delivering net zero or biodiversity net gain across the Arc, instead only talking about “ambitions” and identifying “opportunity areas”. There is nothing in the consultation to suggest that under the current approach, the Arc will contribute to tackling the nature and climate emergency.
At BBOWT we are not anti-development. We are anti-bad and unsustainable development that damages nature and the vital services that it provides. Unsustainable development is happening in the Arc area right now and will continue even if the Growth Arc plans are scrapped, so something needs to change. The Arc doesn’t need to be damaging to our environment if it has nature at its heart and the government does not impose unsustainable levels of development onto communities in the area.
The Government needs to Rethink the Arc. If its priority is landscape scale nature restoration, it can be a turning point for our counties. If it is yet another building project, it could be a disaster for our natural environment.