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Birds, Wildlife and Gardening

Government must urgently rethink Oxford-Cambridge Arc to protect nature and climate

Proposals for significant new housing and infrastructure development risk damaging impacts on nature and climate if they continue to bypass environmental safeguards. Government plans for rapid growth and development between Oxford and Cambridge, known as the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, risk damaging impacts on nature and climate unless they urgently rethink their approach, according to nature conservation […]

Proposals for significant new housing and infrastructure development risk damaging impacts on nature and climate if they continue to bypass environmental safeguards.

Government plans for rapid growth and development between Oxford and Cambridge, known as the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, risk damaging impacts on nature and climate unless they urgently rethink their approach, according to nature conservation and countryside charities the RSPB, The Woodland Trust, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust, The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, and CPRE.

The charities say Government proposals for increased house building and infrastructure development – including new towns – are bypassing critical processes for safeguarding the environment. They are calling on Government to rethink their plans and asking people to respond to a public consultation on ‘the Arc’ to tell Government they want to see nature and climate prioritised and prevent unsustainable and damaging development.

Tree Sparrow, copyright Glyn Sellors, from the surfbirds galleries

How is Government’s current approach to the Arc putting nature and the environment at risk?

  1. Government is bypassing critical steps and processes designed to protect nature by ensuring environmental impacts are considered. For example:
    • Proposals for new settlements between Bedford and Cambridge are being developed ahead of sustainability and environmental assessments of Government’s overall growth plans.
    • East West Rail is moving to choose a route for the new line between Bletchley and Cambridge, which will determine where new housing is built, but has not been subject to Strategic Environmental Assessment of the options and their environmental impacts.
  2. The consultation does not support or even mention the environmental ambitions adopted by a majority of the Arc’s council leaders as well as many of its universities and leading business organisations.
    These ambitions aim to reduce the environmental impact of growth and make a positive contribution to nature recovery and tackling climate change but have been ignored by Government since their publication in March this year.
  3. Government has yet to announce any specific commitments to or targets for restoring nature in the Arc or adopting higher standards of environmental sustainability in the new houses and infrastructure its proposals will see built.

Government must rethink its plans for the Arc to ensure that, if they go ahead, they protect the natural environment and respond to the linked nature and climate emergencies by restoring nature across Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.

A Government consultation is asking people for their views on what the priorities should be for the future of the Arc.

The charities are encouraging people to respond by highlighting the importance of protecting and restoring nature and sharing their concerns about the damage unsustainable growth and development could do if Government doesn’t rethink its approach.

Ask Government to rethink their plans for the Arc to make them better for nature: click here to complete the Rethink the Arc campaign action.

Emma Marsh, RSPB England Director: “If the Government’s plans for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc are to go ahead, they must make good on their stated aim for the Arc to be a world-leader in tackling the nature and climate crisis. The plans cannot be allowed to circumvent environmental safeguards designed to protect nature and they absolutely must adopt ambitious targets for restoring nature and tackling climate change.

“Nature is critical to the health of people and communities, the environment, and the economy. Protecting and restoring nature is vital for any transition to a greener, more sustainable future. That is why we are urging Government to rethink the Arc to ensure their plans protect and restore nature.”

Estelle Bailey, Chief Executive, BBOWT: “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, funds will only be created 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.”

Matt Jackson, Conservation Director, Beds, Cambs and Northants Wildlife Trust: “There is a window of opportunity here to make a big difference for wildlife in one of the most nature depleted parts of the UK. The OxCam Arc was supposed to be an example of economic and housing growth planned with environmental sustainability at its heart. But what we’re seeing is a worrying lack of ambition when it comes to both protecting nature and creating new habitats for threatened species.

“We can’t continue to build homes, offices and roads for humans without thinking about homes, habitats and landscapes for birds, mammals, butterflies and bees.”

Toby Bancroft, Woodland Trust Director for Central England: “It’s astounding that the Government has set out a draft vision for the Growth Arc which does not even mention the environmental ambitions which that have been agreed by a majority of the Arc’s council leaders as well as many of its universities and leading business organisations. At a time when there is urgency to act to start reversing the serious twin climate and biodiversity crisis we now face, plans for Nature should be front and centre, with vision and ambition – committing to the doubling of land managed for nature and an increase in tree cover from 7.4% to 19%, could be transformative if delivered sensitively and at scale. Government needs to rethink their vision for the Growth Arc to ensure that these vital environmental considerations are included.”

Andrew Wood, CPRE’s spatial planning lead: “It’s alarming that the consultation document doesn’t mention the environmental ambitions that local leaders and stakeholders had previously published. In the midst of climate and nature emergencies the Arc vision must show how it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, restore nature, soils and rivers, enhance landscapes, enable sustainable farming and a countryside that works for everyone. If it doesn’t do so, then the Arc is set up to fail.”

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