Forget the Arc – Reset Regional Planning

Ben Seymour, Unsplash

6th September 2022

Image Credit: Ben Seymour, Unsplash

CPRE Oxfordshire is asking Councillors to look at regional planning again, starting from first principles.

The OxCam Arc may not quite yet be dead, but we should take this opportunity to see where it all went wrong. The top down imposition of projects and ambitions was never going to sit happily alongside the needs and wishes of local people.  The Government has been right to move away from central control of a Spatial Framework for the region.  However, as the recent situation with the Oxfordshire 2050 Plan has shown, effective collaboration between local authorities themselves is also hard to deliver.

So, should we forget regional planning altogether?   CPRE Oxfordshire doesn’t believe so.  

CPRE’s longstanding support for the concept of strategic spatial planning is predicated on the potential to deliver better, more sustainable and more integrated outcomes.

These are the principles under which strong regional planning might be achieved:

  • Local people must see the advantages of the plans to their aspirations and wellbeing.
  • Full public involvement is required, in a democratic and transparent process (for example, no more Leaders’ Groups meetings held in secret, no more partnership agreements signed off by leaders without approval by Councils as a whole)
  • Only those issues that genuinely need to be considered at a regional level should be addressed.  In our view, the priority should be for matters relating to the climate and nature emergencies.
  • Other matters, including housing targets, should be a matter for constituent local authorities and direct, local representation.
  • Major infrastructure projects should emerge out of a combination of identified existing local need, not top-down diktat to facilitate growth in future need.  A much broader understanding of infrastructure requirements is essential – the answer to every question is not ‘we need a new road’!  Green & blue infrastructure planning is at least, if not more, important.

CPRE Oxfordshire therefore encourages all our local authorities to take this opportunity to re-set the dial on regional planning – to throw out the Arc once and for all as a fundamentally flawed and toxic approach, but to take forward regional planning in a more democratic and constructive way.  This is needed to help deliver the urgent policies and actions we require to meet our climate and nature emergencies and to protect our countryside.