Editor: A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) policy paper has shed long-awaited light on the government’s spatial framework for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc. Are we looking at a return to regional planning?


Source: Shutterstock/Pajor Pawel

Five years after the suggestion that the Arc could deliver a million new homes by 2050, the MHCLG publication presents a move towards more coordinated and strategic top-down planning, focusing on the natural environment and climate change, connectivity and infrastructure and the availability of homes where they are most needed.

Is government intervention the answer? Haven’t we been here before?

The final regional spatial strategies dissolved in 2013, after the Localism Act imposed on local planning authorities (LPAs) a ‘duty to cooperate’ and engage with neighbours on local plan preparation. History shows that despite excellent examples of pragmatic LPAs, housing delivery frequently fell short.

Now the ‘duty to cooperate’ has been revoked and the MHCLG paper suggests the Arc’s 23 LPAs “cannot continue to plan separately”, highlighting that locations important for delivering development don’t neatly fit into administrative boundaries.

At the local level for homes, business, space, infrastructure, and environment, planning is neither integrated nor able to take an Arc-wide view.

The spatial framework could rectify this, sitting alongside the National Planning Policy Framework, to ensure that local plans conform and meet regional growth objectives, including specific housing targets.

But why stop at the Arc? Government could support a strategic, top-down approach to any growing region. While many LPAs sustainably deliver a balanced amount of housing and infrastructure, many don’t. The MHCLG paper proposes that a new Arc Growth Body guide regional implementation. The goal is not to trample over local issues but place collaboration and engagement at the heart of the framework.

With initial consultation expected this spring, the framework could be implemented in late 2022. If an effective spatial framework can deliver such significant and important growth, why shouldn’t it be a blueprint for future plans of regional importance?

Nick Stafford, GB operations director, Tetra Tech Planning