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

The green recovery and next phase of planning the Oxford-Cambridge Arc have created the perfect opportunity to realise all of these benefits, and the Nature’s Arc principles show how, says the Woodland Trust | Credit: Woodland Trust

Woodland Trust

4 min read Partner content

Some of the UK’s leading nature conservation charities have produced a blueprint for how plans for up to a million new homes can include nature to create happier and healthier communities for people and wildlife.

Nature must be at the heart of plans to build new houses.

With plans starting to take shape to build up to a million new homes in what is known as the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, conservationists are asking the Government to look at this as the perfect opportunity to invest in nature, improve people’s lives and realise the green recovery by building the new nature friendly towns and communities everyone wants to see.

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, the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire (WTBCN); Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT); 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 have created the perfect opportunity to realise all of these benefits, and the Nature’s Arc principles show how.

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.”

This could be a model for development that respects, protects and restores nature, in particular vulnerable natural heritage like ancient woodland.

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.”

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