To close a "missing link" in the strategic road network, the Government has proposed a new major road – an Expressway – to reduce journey times between Oxford and Cambridge and to enable development of up to a million new homes across the corridor.
Different expressway route corridors were proposed in early 2018: in September, the Government announced that "B" is the preferred corridor. From east to west this corridor runs from the M1, passes south of Milton Keynes and Bletchley, and then widens out to encompass a broad swathe of land across central Buckinghamshire. The corridor then divides in two, with different sections passing east and west around Oxford and rejoining on the SW side of the City on the A34.
Thankfully, the Government has recognised the importance of the Otmoor basin for nature – including our own nature reserve – and specifically excluded corridor sub-option B2 from further consideration. However, the rest of corridor B still includes two internationally important sites and over 30 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, or "SSSIs", and numerous locally important sites including nature reserves managed by the Wildlife Trusts.
Of the three corridors originally proposed, we said Corridor B posed the greatest threat to nationally and internationally important sites in the parts of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire affected, so even though the threat to Otmoor has been lifted, the decision is potentially a disastrous one for nature.
This choice of corridor will make the chance of achieving Highways England’s own objective of "no net loss" of biodiversity much harder. And this is not just about a new road. The Government's preference for corridor B is clearly based on its alignment with East-West Rail, and the shared potential that offers to support major new settlements and urban growth in this part of the Oxford to Cambridge corridor. New settlements will bring their own challenges – direct land take and loss of locally important habitats, and likely indirect effects including impacts on air quality, water resources, and from increased recreational pressure.
Picture credit: Bittern by Paul Wyeth