Making every acre matter
If we are to truly and radially transform the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, then we must move to a policy making approach that allocates land according to its potential rather than its current use.
Strategic planning in the UK has become heavily skewed towards development control and an adversarial decision-making process, fixated with current land use and over reliant on a ‘you can’t build that there’ mentality.
We must turn away from this piecemeal approach to development at scale and stop relying on our land’s current use to drive policy. Spatial planning should not simply be about the development process. It should be about the most efficient use of land.
We should identify the land in the Arc considered as having greater potential to deliver the outcomes we seek and incentivise those in control of these parcels to deliver these outcomes by directing public and private money towards them.
There are both carrots and sticks required to achieve this more strategic and efficient land use in the Arc.
Development control still has a vital role, of course. Designations and restrictions that prevent land from being used for inappropriate things and the constraints imposed by local authorities and central government on the specific use of parcels of land.
But rather than simply preventing large-scale development, lets promote large-scale nature enhancement by being imaginative with the carrots we dangle to ensure the best outcomes can be delivered.
More can be done to effectively direct resource from public subsidy and private markets like to ensure the optimal use of land with significant environmental or public amenity potential.
By adopting strategic planning approach to the delivery of these environmental outcomes, we can be more cost effective and provide greater opportunities to deliver these environmental benefits, improving ecosystem services that will benefit both wildlife and society. Only then we can do it at the scale required to deliver the Government’s ambition to make the Arc the ‘standard bearer for green growth in the UK that it imagines.
Of course, this process requires wide public engagement and strong governance to deliver but there is also an opportunity here, that technology affords us, that hasn't been available in the past, to undertake a more strategic analysis and planning of optimal land uses across the Arc too.
Striving to achieve a 20% net gain for biodiversity across the Arc, for instance, will require both on and off-site habitat creation and enhancement. A proposed Arc Spatial Framework provides an opportunity to promote the protection and enhancement of nature networks, strengthen wildlife corridors and encourage wildlife movement, creating more resilience to climate change.
This type of ambitious spatial planning is not about the development process its about land use policy. There are millions of acres of land that exist across the Arc and we need an approach that sets out to put each one of them to the best possible use.