Oxford to Cambridge Growth Arc
The Government wants to see up to a million new homes between Oxford and Cambridge, with a new railway and roads to connect them. But important woods and trees could be damaged and destroyed.
Credit: Charles J Sharp
Government’s ambition requires investment in major transportation projects to support delivery of the plan, in particular the East-West Rail link.
Plans for a large road project, known as the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway, have now been cancelled by the Government as the proposals are no longer considered cost effective. This is great news as many woods and trees would likely have been lost or damaged, but several smaller road options will now be explored instead. We will be keeping our eyes peeled for any proposals with adverse impacts on irreplaceable habitats.
The area covered by the Arc is already home to rare species like black hairstreak butterflies. This rare insect is found only in thickets of blackthorn in woods on heavy clay soils between Oxford and Peterborough. Increasing tree and woodland cover across the Arc from 7.4% to 19% could be key in expanding the habitat this butterfly relies on.
What does the Arc mean for woods and trees?
Significantly increased development in the form of housing, road and rail puts woods and trees at risk. We want to avoid any adverse impacts, such as loss or damage, on these valuable habitats.
Planning and investment at a regional scale does present some opportunities to support the recovery of wildlife, such as:
- delivery of major tree planting and woodland creation
- the construction of wildlife bridges and green corridors
- the restoration of damaged ancient woodland.
But this can't be considered compensation for any destruction of existing ancient woods and trees.
We are in a climate and nature emergency. All wood s and trees should be regarded as valuable and important to preserve.
The three major projects are at different stages of delivery:
- Housing: some house building has already occurred or been allocated within local plans. Government funding has been earmarked to accelerate 100,000 new homes in the area before 2031.
- Rail: East West Rail has already started construction of the first of its three sections. The preferred corridor for the central section of this rail line has now been identified and route alignment options within this corridor have been consulted on.
- Road: plans for the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway have thankfully been cancelled but other potentially damaging road options are still being explored.
Over 3,200 of you responded to our campaign on the East West Rail corridor consultation in early 2019. You highlighted the importance of ancient woods and ancient and veteran trees to East West Rail, and called on them to protect these precious irreplaceable habitats. Thank you for your support.
East West Railway has since consulted on a number of route alignments within its preferred corridor. Our assessments indicate possible impacts on ancient woods and veteran trees, though we can't yet definitively state the extent as the detail is too limited at this stage. Nevertheless, we hold concerns and have raised them via the consultation. We'll keep pressing East West Rail to reconsider.
What are we doing?
We have been working with the Wildlife Trusts and RSPB to develop a vision for nature within the corridor. Our Nature’s Arc principles set out what we want to see adopted at a local level to restore and increase nature in the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.
Since the publication of our principles, the Arc Environment Working Group has developed its own environment principles which includes increasing tree cover from 7 to 19%. Read the Arc Environment Working Group principles.
East West Rail consulted on route alignment options for the central section of the scheme between Bedford and Cambridge.
Some ancient woods and veteran trees are very close to the proposed route alignments, though the detail of the proposed route creation is too limited at this stage to determine what the level of impact would be. We responded to the consultation to highlight our concerns for adverse impacts on irreplaceable habitats and we'll be seeking further engagement with East West Rail as they take this forward. We expect it will now be assessing the consultation feedback before identifying its preferred route alignment.
As for the Growth Arc itself, the Government is consulting on its vision for the Arc. Your voice is crucial if woods and trees are to be saved from this development.
You can help
You can help to make sure every single ancient tree in the Growth Arc is identified. We can’t protect them if we don’t know they’re there.
If you know of any potential ancient, veteran or notable trees in the area, please take a few minutes to add them to the Ancient Tree Inventory.