England Policy and Advocacy Communications Manager Rupert Masefield reflects on the outlook for nature following recent Government announcements and the launch of new Environment Principles supported by the Arc’s local council leaders.

News on Government’s ambitions for “transformative economic growth” in what has become known as the Oxford-Cambridge Arc has been thin on the ground over the last year, but February’s announcement by Housing Minister Chris Pincher on plans for the Arc was followed last week with the publication by local council and business leaders of their shared Arc Environment Principles.

What does all this mean for nature? With Government promising that growth in this region will embody the ambitions of the 25 Year Environment Plan and leave the natural environment in a better state, do these developments suggest that this promise will be kept?

You can read our full public response to the Housing Minister’s announcement here. It calls for greater clarity on Government commitments and targets for protecting and restoring nature, including doubling the area of land managed for nature across the region and formally cancelling the proposed Oxford-Cambridge Expressway motorway scheme.

Crucially, if the OxCam Arc is to go ahead, decisions on housing, infrastructure and the economy must be driven by the need to protect and restore the natural world on which these all depend. Economic growth ambitions cannot be allowed to result in unsustainable new infrastructure and housing being built that adds to the pressures that have resulted in the natural environment in the Arc being degraded to the point where today it has one of the country’s lowest proportions of land designated for nature.

Last week’s launch of local leaders’ new Environment Principles for protecting, restoring and enhancing the natural environment in the Oxford-Cambridge Arc shows that, locally at least, these things are increasingly being seen as a pre-requisite. Any economic growth, new infrastructure and housing must be compatible with and help achieve these aims, and the ambitious goals and targets set by these new Environment Principles are a significant and welcome signal of local councils’ and business leaders’ positive intent.

For that intent to be realised though, it is essential that central Government adopts and commits to delivering on the ambitious goals and target that local leaders, the Arc Universities and Local Enterprise Partnerships have supported in these Environment Principles. They must become Government policy – nothing less – and the Arc’s governance, policy, funding and practical delivery frameworks must be shaped by a binding and steadfast commitment to achieving them.

Our joint response with local Wildlife Trusts and The Woodland Trust – partners in Nature’s Arc – calls on Government Ministers to take all the necessary steps to ensure this happens.

With Government due to consult the public on their Vision for the OxCam Arc this summer, people will have a chance to share their own views on how nature and the environment should be considered within plans for the future of the region. We will be calling for it be one that is richer in nature, where everyone enjoys the benefits of more green spaces and wildlife.