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East-West Corridor: CPRE Concerns

by Andy Boddington – 17th July 2017
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In its most recent newsletter, the Buckinghamshire Branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has raised concerns about the East West Expressway – a major transportation route that is being proposed to link Oxford via Milton Keynes to Cambridge, and championed by the National Infrastructure Commission. Here are some key parts of the CPRE's commentary, authored by Andy Boddington.

"The Expressway is being championed by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), chaired by Lord Adonis. The NIC sees the road as essential to the creation of a corridor that will rival California's Silicon Valley. In part, its vision is high tech – a knowledge economy that will generate 700,000 jobs by 2050, increasing output by £163bn a year.

But the NIC's vision is also low tech. It wants commuting to be easier along the corridor, especially by road. (Rail always seems to be an afterthought in the NIC's deliberations.) The plans are a commuters' charter and perhaps ultimately a commuters' nightmare.

The Expressway will open up opportunities for new housing. The NIC is talking of building 22,000 homes a year in the corridor. That's a new Milton Keynes every five years. Among the settlements in its sights for rapid expansion are Winslow and Haddenham.

This rate of growth is unlikely without high level strategic planning. The NIC has already set the ball rolling on this with a report that calls for a powerful strategic planning board for the East West Corridor. There are dangers here. This could be regional government returning by stealth. And if the NIC's proposals are accepted, the corridor will have its future dictated by the development industry, not the wishes of local communities.

The two reports from the NIC on the East West Corridor shows a shocking disinterest in local communities and the natural and historic environment. There is no discussion of environmental constraints. No recognition that people are attracted to live in this area by the beauty of its landscapes and townscapes. No acceptance that the level of development the NIC proposes will destroy much of this beauty.

What I fear most is that the citizens of Oxford through to Cambridge will not understand the implications of the plans for the East West Corridor until it is too late. The latest NIC report attracted almost no publicity. But its dry and technical content belies its importance. The NIC is very clear that if local councils in the corridor do not accept its call for strategic planning and higher levels of development, central government might intervene."

In a further public statement, CPRE has also said this:

CPRE is supportive of strategic planning to deliver regeneration, development and new infrastructure, but argues that the process should begin with communities identifying their local needs. CPRE's response notes that the proposed approach risks a 'democratic deficit', with prominent roles given to bodies that are not accountable to the electorate.

"The biggest concern is the possibility of massive ribbon development that will stretch the 120km corridor. We have already seen developer proposals for major ribbon development to the south of Milton Keynes, extending well outside the new town itself, swallowing up villages and quality agricultural land," commented Louise Hartley, CPRE Buckinghamshire Branch Manager.

"There has been a serious lack of engagement with local communities and the voluntary sector in the NIC's proposals to date. This needs to change going forward to ensure that the proposals align with the needs of local people and minimise damage to the countryside."

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