Oxford to Cambridge Arc: a chance to support a green recovery by protecting and restoring nature

Rupert Masefield

Monday 15 June 2020

Some of the UK’s leading nature conservation charities have produced principles for putting nature first in new developments to create happier and healthier communities for people and wildlife.

Nature must be at the heart of any plans for the government's proposed Oxford to Cambridge Growth Arc.

The area between Oxford and Cambridge has been identified by the government as the location for a swathe of new development, including new homes, transportation networks, and new places to work. Any development in this area needs to invest in nature, improve people’s lives and realise the green recovery by building the new nature friendly communities everyone wants to see. New developments must benefit nature, and if they don’t, they should not go ahead.

This year the importance of being able to get out into nature and discover wildlife where we live has become clear, and this has been underlined by figures released last week by the RSPB that showed widespread public support for investing in and increasing nature and natural greenspace in our recovery from the Coronavirus crisis.

To show how this could be done, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT); the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire (WTBCN); the RSPB; and the Woodland Trust have jointly published a set of principles for protecting and restoring nature and tackling climate change as part of growth and development proposed for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.

The Nature’s Arc principles emphasise the importance of access to nature and natural greenspace for the health, wellbeing, wealth and resilience of people and communities. Using these principles, Government can make a commitment to a new standard for sustainable development that will benefit wildlife, tackle climate change and build healthier neighbourhoods for people.

Investing in nature and increasing and enhancing the region’s “green infrastructure” – its parks, trees, woodlands, nature reserves and other natural green spaces – would benefit local people, the economy and the environment, making the Arc a better place for people to live and work, and for businesses to invest.

The green recovery and next phase of planning the Oxford-Cambridge Arc are an opportunity to realise all of these benefits, and the Nature’s Arc principles show how.

This article was amended on 19 June 2020 to clarify our position on the Oxford-Cambridge Arc and associated Expressway proposals

The RSPB does not support the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway, and has challenged the proposals on the grounds of their likely impact on nature and climate change. We supported and provided evidence for a legal challenge to Government over their failure to carry out Strategic Environmental Assessment of the Expressway and continue to scrutinise the Government’s transport infrastructure proposals and lobby for low-carbon transport solutions that avoid damaging nature.

For more detail on how we have responded to the Expressway proposals visit our casework page.

The RSPB does not support or advocate for any target number of houses to be built in the Oxford-Cambridge Arc. The Nature’s Arc principles call for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc proposals as a whole to be subject to Strategic Environmental Assessment to understand upfront the cumulative environmental impacts before any development can take place. The environmental limits and constraints on development in the Arc must be fully understood and any proposed development must not exceed or put extra strain on these limits.

The principles set out in Nature’s Arc are a starting point for ensuring any proposed development in the Oxford-Cambridge Arc protects nature, respects environmental limits, meets zero carbon standards, and helps achieve the ambition of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan to restore nature in a generation.

Matt Jackson, Conservation Manager at BCNWT said:

“Recent months have underlined just how vital nature and greenspaces are for our wellbeing. We each have concerns about the impacts on nature from the growth arc, but we share aspirations for the area too. By putting nature first as the Arc evolves, people can benefit too - a thriving natural environment that supports healthy and sustainable lifestyles is achievable if these three steps are taken.”

Matthew Stanton, Head of Planning, Policy and Advocacy at BBOWT said:

“Given the nature and climate emergency we are in, business as usual for new development is not an option. Restoring our natural environment needs to be at the heart of plans for the arc. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a landscape in which people can benefit from a thriving natural environment that supports healthy lifestyles. Where growth is given the go ahead, the needs of nature must be a priority.”

RSPB Operations Director for Central England, Jeff Knott:

“The importance of nature during the Coronavirus crisis and support for a green recovery have made the need for growth and development to help restore nature clearer than ever. This is a huge opportunity to do things differently. For the Oxford-Cambridge Arc to play its part in a green recovery it needs to have world leading ambitions to increase nature that match and underpin its aspirations for economic growth. The principles set out by our organisations show what’s needed for the Arc to deliver for nature, for people, and for the economy too.”

Jack Taylor, Lead Campaigner at Woodland Trust said:

“People have been connecting, or re-connecting, with nature so much more as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. They’ve found comfort and strength from daily walks in green spaces, rediscovering the joys of trees, woods and the wildlife within them. Our response to this crisis must take this into account.

“The Oxford Cambridge Arc is still in its infancy. There’s a real opportunity here for Government, local authorities and developers to put nature first so it can be delivered without damage. This could be a model for development that respects, protects and restores nature, in particular vulnerable natural heritage like ancient woodland.”

The Nature’s Arc principles are publicly available to view in full and download on the RSPB website here: rspb.org.uk/oxcam-arc

For information about the Nature’s Arc partners’ responses to the Oxford-Cambridge Arc and Expressway proposals, visit

Last Updated: Tuesday 23 June 2020


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Rupert Masefield

Communications Manager, England Policy & Advocacy

07872 814878
Tagged with: Country: England Topic: Green issues Topic: People Topic: Planning and economics