Government Causing Council Concerns By Pushing Oxbridge Corridor Delivery
Last Winter, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) set out their vision for how the Oxford to Cambridge corridor was going to be developed. The NIC report, ‘Partnering for Prosperity’ proposed creation of an expressway and the East-West rail link between the two cities, alongside the substantial target of one million new homes by 2050. In addition, the vision included a positive outlook that local and central government will work together to identify and designate locations for new settlements by 2020, with the call for proposals having ended 14th September.
A letter to councils by housing minister Kit Malthouse this Summer cemented the government’s support for the growth plans, with the emphasis on councils being ambitious in their housing proposals. The letter prompted apprehension amongst some councils that government may impose a top-down, centralised approach identifying settlements for local authorities. The Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire have sought guarantees from Malthouse that decision-making will be decentralised, especially given that both authorities are working to adopt their local plans and are undertaking initial research into developing the Oxfordshire Joint Spatial Strategy.
Since publication of the letter, the MHCLG have been forced to release a statement that 14th September was “not a hard deadline”, and that the letter was intended to kick off a dialogue between government and the local authorities. Rather than submission of fully planned proposals that would be impossible without the expressway being finalised by Highways England, the MHCLG insists that at this stage it just wants to identify and converse with interested parties.
Whilst the issue of who is in charge between MHCLG, the Treasury and local authorities has been raised by Vale of White Horse, South Oxfordshire and even the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge Corridor All-Party Parliamentary Group, Martin Tugwell of England’s Economic Heartland (EEH) argues that Malthouse’s letter appears long-term in its thinking. Tugwell believes it is appropriate for central government to take a lead on planning the area to the extent that EEH has called for a National Policy Statement setting out a strategic area plan demonstrating long-term government commitment to capture the full economic benefits of the corridor.