The Ox-Cam Arc is a large scale plan which, if adopted, would reshape our county. You can read more about it here, https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/creating-a-vision-for-the-oxford-cambridge-arc . In this blog series, we take a look at the issues and challenges around the Arc, and how the Green Party is responding. In this blog, we’re looking at the environment.
Following the recent IPCC Report the need to ‘step up’ our climate response has become scarily clear. Not only did it conclude that extreme weather events will become increasingly common- with at least one “practically ice-free” Arctic summer by 2050- but it also said that the critical tipping point of 1.5oC warming would be reached by 2040, if not before, in all predicted scenarios tested.
Whilst the government now aims for “sustainable and green economic growth”, as promoted by the Arc project, the Greens think that, within this newly accelerated timeframe, new projects should be agnostic about growth and be centered on respecting planetary boundaries and an imminent emergency response. If a house is on fire, there’s not much point building an extension… to paraphrase Greta Thunberg.
Ambitious targets like Net Carbon Zero by 2030 at the latest and a carbon negative ARC should be the primary focus of future plans. For example, whilst the government considers setting up a new ‘Arc Growth Body’, we would suggest that growth in the Arc region is not only relatively useless, but might be impossible to generate in the first place while we are overwhelmed by floods, drinking water shortages or air pollution - as predictions suggest. Instead, a new ‘Arc Climate Emergency Body’ might precipitate a more apt response.
Climate Change Resilience and Net Zero
The Arc consultation requires that new developments work towards national net zero targets and can respond to ‘future climate change’- a thinly veiled admission of the predicted climate emergencies the area will face.
Whilst skeptical of current national targets, the Greens do appreciate the vision of the Arc put forwards: as a ‘forum for joint work to deliver on zero carbon commitments’. We also whole-heartedly support the emergence of the Arc region as ‘a world-leader for environmental sustainability’. Our great universities have already proven themselves capable of world-leading innovation within a global crisis once!
But none of this can be achieved if policy does not acknowledge and adapt for these most recent climate trajectories. The climate-oriented goals are at odds with, and often fundamentally undermined by, the Arc’s focus on major housing and road-building projects. Building roads and one million houses (when empty properties have been on the rise for the last four years!) will not only compound issues with property prices in our area, but also destroy many of the carbon sinks desperately needed to absorb all their emissions.
The Arc Consultation establishes a tone that embraces climate activists like us- and whilst 5 years ago it might have seemed like a huge shift in the right direction, today it lacks the urgency our new circumstances demand. Growth is nice- it is politically popular and necessary within most thriving economies - but in the context of an emergency, it is a luxury item.
Green spaces, nature and biodiversity
Within the Arc region are vast areas of natural beauty: from the Chilterns and Cotswolds to the wildflower meadows in Cambridgeshire fenlands and the 5,700km of river flowing through it all. We are pleased that the Arc consultation recognizes the significance of these natural spaces, promising to prioritise the protection of, and access to, these areas. Many of these spaces are in need of this, and the pandemic definitely showed lots of us how important our local green spaces really were.
Whilst both the Greens and the government are recognizing the significance of these places though, it seems to be for slightly different reasons. The government- once again focused on roads and connectivity- seems to prioritise human access to these areas. The Greens acknowledge the beauty of these natural spaces but also, more practically, we understand them to be essential carbon sinks for mitigating dangerous emissions. This means we need more, not just to conserve the ones we have for our enjoyment.
Slightly concerningly, their ‘Local Natural Capital Plan’ makes such spaces part of public accounts- assigning a value and, by implication, a price. Throughout the Arc consultation we see this mentality: ‘making sure natural capital forms a key part of planning and decision-making’ or ‘identifying opportunities’ to ‘invest in nature’. Even though we support the preservation of these spaces, we should be wary of advocating these outlooks and motives moving forwards.
Air quality, water and waste
These are some of the top issues facing our areas right now, not just in the future. The government report recognizes not only poor air quality in many areas of the Arc, but also identifies it as ‘one of the most water stressed areas of the country’, anticipating droughts as soon as 2050.
We are very glad that the Arc Consultation fully recognizes these risks. They commit to looking for opportunities where improved water infrastructure and resilience can be implemented. Whilst they don’t specify particular project plans, if they can follow through on these goals we will atleast make progress towards managing future crises as they loom.
Once again though, there is something of a contradiction at play. Even though refreshingly open about some of these risks, their plans for ‘sustainable’ growth continue to undermine much of the wider agenda. The consultation simultaneously acknowledges the poor air quality caused by ‘high rates of car use’ AND still advocates for major road-building. It admits the serious possibility of future droughts, BUT continues to stress the need for continuous housing expansion, putting more pressure on water supplies. This report is given in terms and tones that we can get on board with- but it is as yet unclear whether this is ultimately a growth agenda or a green one…
If you want to submit your own views to the consultation, you have until October 12th.