It's time to make decisions on the type of economy we want and plan strategically for it.
Covid 19 has forced us all to reconsider our view of the world. But I can report that my view of the strategic planning world hasn’t altered. I’m still in no doubt that sweeping changes are necessary. More than ever, the planning system needs leadership on the big issues.
Bidwells latest research - out this week – reveals that up to 20 million sq ft of new lab and office space will be required in the Oxford-Cambridge Arc (‘The Arc’) within the next two decades to keep pace with soaring demand. That’s twice the volume of the previous 20 years.
More than ever, the research-led businesses located across the region need support and our economies developed to become more inclusive and sustainable. If we continue down the same planning pathways our country will be poorer and less resilient, in all senses of the word.
But can the strategic planning system, as it is today, really deliver at this scale?
The forthcoming White Paper needs to major on top-down decision-making to instil certainty for markets, infrastructure providers and the public about the long-term plans for an area, to deliver economies of scale through coordinated funding. A strategic plan for the Oxford to Cambridge Arc would produce a single platform for directing the investment that will be required to support the economic recovery.
I rue the loss of regional planning. The ‘duty to cooperate’ doesn’t cut the mustard and has seriously reduced the ability of councils to plan the wider benefits packages for homes and infrastructure, health and well-being, and climate change.
Planning reform should be aligned to a Devolution White Paper, which provides clarity and consistency on the governance and resourcing of strategic plans, including by locally-led development corporations. The devolution of some powers, funds and responsibilities from central government to bodies such as the Cambridge and Peterborough Combined Authority is already demonstrating that big ticket items can move ahead in a coordinated way. For example the CAM Metro proposals and the new Cambridge South Railway Station at Addenbrooke’s/Cambridge Bio-Medical Campus.
This template could then be rolled-out to other areas across the country. Such a move would bring a new found confidence in planning and development. As they say: necessity is the mother of invention.