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Plans for a million houses in Oxford-Cambridge Arc could destroy area the size of Birmingham

Campaigners have warned that plans to build one million new homes in the south of England will “concrete over an area of countryside the size of Birmingham.”

However, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has argued that the area’s economic future “can be secured while protecting the environment.”

The government is set to accept NIC recommendations for the creation of new towns between Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge, coined the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, delivering one million new homes in the area by 2050 in a £5.5bn development. The entire county of Oxfordshire currently has just 285,000 homes.

But the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has published a report estimating that the plans will see an area of countryside the size of Birmingham lost to development.

It says that the government are due to respond to the recommendations despite no formal public consultation, environmental assessment or parliamentary enquiry.

With 230,000 homes currently proposed for the Arc, the CPRE says that there is the capacity for just under 50,000 houses on previously developed or brownfield land within the Arc, meaning the vast majority would need to be built on areas of open countryside.

The route linking the two renowned university towns, nicknamed the ‘brain belt,’ was heralded by the road minister Jesse Norman as enhancing “both transport connectivity and growth across the region for the benefit of the UK as a whole.”

But the proposals have faced hostility from local activists and from the CPRE, which said: “If given the green light, this development will change the face of England’s countryside forever.”

The NIC responded to the new report, saying that a lack of sufficient and suitable housing presented a fundamental risk to the future economic growth of the area.

It said: “Our recommendations come with the clear condition that new schemes should not compromise the high-quality natural environment for existing and future residents, and do not need to involve any changes to existing Green Belt protections.

“In fact, our report made clear the need for significant investment in landscape improvements, affordable housing and sustainable transport.

“These changes are vital to make the most of the area’s economic potential and the contribution it makes to the wider UK economy.”

In the commission’s report, published in November last year, it found that local plans would only see 16,000 new homes a year in the area, and it wants to double the current rate of house building.

Paul Miner, head of strategic plans and devolution at the CPRE, said: “Whilst there will be a need for genuine affordable housing to meet local need in the area, the scale of these proposals is completely unacceptable.

“Despite costing at least £5.5bn in public money, there has been no formal public consultation around developing the Arc. The lack of debate equates to a major, and troubling, democratic deficit at the heart of the proposals.”


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