PRESS RELEASE: Response to Government's Announcement
The Horton-cum-Studley Expressway Group welcomes that the ecological value of the Otmoor area has been recognised in the announcement today. However we consider that we need the East West Rail link, but we do not need an Expressway in any corridor. There have been no public surveys, no environmental assessment, no public discussion, no consultation with the academics in either University and no clear-cut case presented of the need for this expressway[i]. This is little more than a vanity project that will destroy communities and irreplaceable natural habitats along the corridor.
The local councils have not been fully consulted and they in turn have kept their constituents more or less in the dark. The Government is ignoring both EU[ii] and United Nations[iii] laws to which it is signed up, to involve the public at all stages of plan and project development; and not just the affected public but the public in general.
The government has proposed building 1 million new homes along on the Expressway Arc would lead to 300,000 new homes in Oxfordshire, more than doubling housing stock in 32 years. This is equivalent to adding 22 new Bicester towns[iv] to the county. All of Oxfordshire’s critical infrastructure (including 2,900 miles of roads[v], 16 hospitals (not including the University Hospital, the JRII), 104 clinics[vi], 91 GP practices[vii] and over 300 functioning schools (primary, secondary and special)[viii], water supplies, sewage works etc.) would also have to double just to maintain present standards for such population growth. Where are the plans and proposals for this critical work?
The South East of England does not need the potential two million[ix] more residents. Whatever hi-tech solutions come out of both Universities, these can be exploited anywhere in the country. Has the ‘northern powerhouse’ strategy[x] been abandoned for one that selfishly says ‘what’s made in the south, stays in the south’?
Make no mistake, this is a housing project masquerading as a road-building project.
Notes to the editor
For further information and comment please contact
David Rogers 01865 351348 / 07762 260802
Tim Dixon 07532 005270
Sarah Foxcroft 07970 412989
In early July of this year, the newly appointed Minister of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Rt Hon. Kit Malthouse (the fourth new Housing Minister in 12 months), wrote to all local authorities across the Oxford-Cambridge growth corridor, to Local Enterprise Partnerships, Universities and Colleges, landowners, businesses and others asking them to bring forward ‘ambitious proposals for transformational housing growth, including new settlements’ to realise a plan to build one million new homes across the corridor by 2050[xi]. They were given just 7 weeks, to 14th September to respond. Apart from the ridiculous haste requested by the Minister[xii], his letter makes no mention of the associated developments required to support all those new homes that, in the case of Oxfordshire, would double its housing stock in the next 32 years. As was said in 2004 of a proposal by the then Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, to double the size of Milton Keynes, the lack of these (infrastructure) funds is “far and away the most worrying aspect”[xiii] of the proposals. Concern over doubling the size of a young town (Milton Keynes was then less than 50 years old) is magnified many times over when the same trick is tried on an entire county with a history stretching back more than a millennium.
- Highways England (HE) has not complied with EU law and the UN Aarhaus convention requiring a Strategic Environmental Assessment to be completed.
- The least environmentally damaging route could already have been ruled out as HE admit they haven’t completed a Strategic Environmental Assessment.
Transport into cities, and the threat to Green Belts
At best, Oxfordshire’s share of the 80 miles of new or improved roads between Oxford and Cambridge amounts to less than 1% of its existing stock of major and minor roads throughout the county[xiv]. Yet this will be associated with more than a doubling of the population, and its associated cars, pollution and traffic congestion, by 2050.
The expressway fails to address the first-mile/last mile problem of getting from a city’s ring road into the city centre[xv] and would make local traffic congestion along Oxford’s ring road and into the city dramatically worse. Railways can deliver thousands of commuters to the centres of cities on time and without clogging up the road network further. Surely investment in railways is socially, environmentally, technically and economically much more sensible than building yet more roads?
In response to a request from the National Infrastructure Committee the cities of Oxford and Cambridge produced reports in 2017 addressing the severe problem of the first/last mile – of delivering workers living outside the cities into the city centres.
Oxford’s solution to the first/last mile problem is essentially to ignore it and to respond to the ‘unmet housing need’ of Oxford City by seeking to develop Green Belt land just outside the city ring road. If workers can live close to their place of work, the daily commute can be shortened.
Cambridge’s solution to the same NIC challenge is refreshingly different (available at https://www.nic.org.uk/publications/page/4/). Cambridge is investigating novel transport systems (an AVRT or Affordable Very Rapid Transit) that would deliver commuters from the outskirts, through the green belt into the city centre. Part of this system (in the city itself) would be underground, thus preserving Cambridge’s historical centre.
Oxford also plans to have a rapid urban transport system by 2050 (https://www.oxford.gov.uk/news/article/601/oxford2050_how_should_we_travel_in_and_around_oxford_in_2050) but does not seem to see this as a way to save its Green belt at the present time.
Oxford is on an EU wide strategic road and rail network designed to facilitate cross-border trade:
Main ‘TenTec’ road routes use the M25 around the North of London. It is thought that the expressway may form an ‘outer M25’ to relieve the existing M25, and that between 20% and 40% of any houses built along the expressway will be bought by London commuters.
The Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) was introduced by the Planning Act 2008 (to replace and simplify an older ‘Section 106 agreement’) to provide funds for building infrastructure needed by new housing projects. Introduction of the CIL was followed by a 49% drop in planning applications for new homes (https://www.ft.com/content/9a353a06-60fe-11e4-894b-00144feabdc0). Developers are clearly reluctant to fund infrastructure, the real cost of which is considerably higher than any CIL:
‘ Stuart Robinson, a director of property consultancy CBRE who specialises in planning, said the tax hit developers’ pockets by reducing the value of the land they held.
“CIL is likely to have a negative impact on development in the short term wherever it is introduced, because underlying land prices take time to adjust downwards to take account of it,” he said.’
Deeply unpopular with developers (who want it abolished altogether), CILs are discretionary, and only 20% of Local Planning authorities enforce them (https://www.metislaw.com/budget-2017-impact-on-the-community-infrastructure-levy/)
[iv] Bicester had a population of 32,642 in the 2011 census. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicester. The estimated number of new houses in Oxford by 2050 (300,000) translates to an extra population of 720,000 souls at the Oxford and UK mean number of people per household (pphh) in the 2011 survey. This projected increase in population is therefore equivalent to 22 Bicesters
Oxford City 2011 2011 2.4pphh
UK census 2.4 pphh
Bicester is set to double in size in the next 20 years, and its present population size reflects this:
[v] Document RDL0102 from https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/road-length-statistics-rdl
[ix] An additional 2 million people is based on the assumption of an average of 2 people per household, across the 1 million homes to be built along the new expressway. Of course the figure could be higher.
But see also:
[xiii] The quote is by John Best, then CEO of Milton Keynes Council https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2004/jan/06/regeneration.immigrationpolicy
[xiv] Document RDL0102 from https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/road-length-statistics-rdl
For (Greater) Cambridge: https://www.nic.org.uk/publications/greater-cambridge-first-last-mile-strategy-report/