The Oxford-Cambridge Arc: Spatial Framework


25 February 2021

The Oxford-Cambridge Arc is an important strategy for the Government. It is aimed at stimulating and accelerating economic growth in an arc which includes towns and cities renowned for innovation and prosperity but which are currently subject to constraints on travel and development. The ambition of the strategy is now finally matched by an ambitious Spatial Framework and rapid consultation. It is a measure of the weight which the Government gives to the project that the Spatial Framework will have the same status in decision making as the NPPF.

The Spatial Framework

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has published: Planning for Sustainable Growth in the Oxford-Cambridge Arc: an introduction to the spatial framework. This publication sets out the Government’s plan for developing a long term framework for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, spanning Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire and identified as a national economic priority area. It is intended that the Spatial Framework will be in place shortly after autumn 2022.

The Spatial Framework will set out the approach for growth in respect of the economy, environment, transport and infrastructure, and housing and planning. The Government’s core principle is to “develop a long-term Spatial Framework for the Arc that will support better spatial planning, provide a blue print for better targeted public investment, gives investors and business greater long-term certainty over growth plan and allows communities to shape the long term future of places across the region”. The three areas that the Government is particularly concerned about are:

  • the natural environment and climate change
  • connectivity and infrastructure
  • the availability of homes where they are needed the most.

An ambitious timetable

The publication sets out the proposed timetable for delivery of the Spatial Framework. It is intended to be developed in three phases:

  1. phase 1: public engagement to ‘shape a vision through the area’ through a consultation in summer 2021
  2. phase 2: developing options for “turning the vision into policy” with a further consultation in spring 2022
  3. phase 3: a draft Spatial Framework to be published for consultation in autumn 2022 with implementation of the final Framework shortly after.

The Government says it is committed to “working collaboratively with residents and local partners”, “understanding the environmental, social and economic impacts and undertaking a full and integrated sustainability appraisal” and “developing a common digital platform and robust evidence base”.

A policy with weight

Importantly, the Spatial Framework will be implemented as spatially specific national planning policy - sitting alongside the NPPF and national transport policy. It will therefore have legal weight so local planning authorities across the Arc preparing local development documents will need to have regard to the Spatial Framework in their planning making and decision taking.

Our opinion

We view this publication as a positive step and welcome the strategic and coordinated approach to planning for growth across the Arc and government support in this task. We are pleased to see some concrete proposals as to the implementation of the Framework and the timescales for its delivery which are long overdue. It is clear however that substantial time and resources will need to be allocated by all concerned if the very challenging proposed deadlines and the legal requirements of the planned public consultations are to be met.

The new Spatial Framework will have great significance for planning in the wider region so it will be important to engage with the process. In the meantime, Local Authorities are expected to continue with the production of local plans, so there will be a good deal to keep track of in a rapidly changing and challenging climate.

If you have any questions about this article please contact Naomi Sunkin or any member of the Planning and Environmental Team.

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at February 2021.

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