Over three quarters (77%) of residents living in Buckinghamshire believe that plans for major new development across the Oxfordshire-Cambridgeshire region will lead to damage of the local countryside and environment, according to new public polling published today by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).
The poll, which was carried out by research company Survation on the behalf of the countryside charity, interviewed 1,500 residents across five counties (Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire) on development proposals known as the Oxford-Cambridge Arc. The plans could see one million new homes built across the region by 2050.
A CPRE analysis from last year demonstrated that in order to build the one million new houses, an area of countryside greater than the size of Birmingham would be lost to development. Despite the scale of the development, the government has given the project its backing without a formal public consultation, or weighing up its impact on the countryside, people’s health, and climate change.
While there is support for some new housing across the Arc, the majority of Buckinghamshire residents (63%) do not support the scale of house building proposed. If any development does take place, an overwhelming majority (81%) of residents believe that the housing needs of local people must take priority, and three quarters (70%) believe that more social housing is what is most needed for the area.
Despite this, CPRE warn that based on current projections, no more than 18% of the locally identified need for affordable homes will be met during the planned period of growth.
Without a formal public consultation and an environmental assessment, the impact of the government’s ‘growth at all costs’ approach could have catastrophic consequences for the local countryside, wildlife and environment, to the detriment of local communities.
In response to the report, The Minister of State for Housing Kit Malthouse MP said:
“Handled sensitively the Oxford Cambridge arc can be an example to the world of how to both build large numbers of homes for a generation crying out for them, while also leaving the environment in a better state than we found it.
"This is the challenge and I hope that everyone will join us in rising to it.”
However the CPRE aren't happy at this.
Paul Miner, Head of Strategic Plans and Devolution at CPRE, said:
‘It is unthinkable that the government would consider such a vast development proposal, which will have huge and damaging consequences for the countryside and environment, without any sort of assessment of its impact. People are right to be concerned.
‘Rather than ignoring people and the environment in a rush for economic growth, consideration of the full effects on communities and the environment must be given priority. Before the government takes these proposals any further, it is imperative that a Strategic Environmental Assessment is carried out, along with a full public consultation on the proposals.’
Paula Buck, Chair at CPRE Buckinghamshire, said:
‘Many local and national politicians are hiding behind a network of bureaucracy and grand claims to push through a massive increase in development, at whatever the cost to the environment, and without any guarantee that local housing needs will be met. There is clear support for greater transparency on these decisions and we challenge our MPs to respond appropriately.’
The Government has promised a ‘public engagement exercise’ this summer in its new vision statement for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc , which was published last week alongside its Spring Statement. CPRE fears that this will be nothing but a meaningless box ticking exercise and will fail to engage with the range of views that encompass the objections to the proposals.
CPRE is calling for a full Parliamentary Select Committee Inquiry into the proposals, which should look at the potential impact on the local environment and communities, as well as the economies of other areas of the country.