If London was built to the same density as Milton Keynes it would cover East Anglia – this is precisely what worries many of us”

– Stella Stafford was transformed by events from being an author of cosy fiction into a campaigner – dealing with brute fact – or at least weird proposals.

The one she came up against first was the #AllegedOxCamArc – the proposals for an “expressway” and 1,000,000 houses between Oxford and Cambridge


The “Arc” project is one that was never intended to be of any useful value to anyone except investors and developers.

To be fair to its devisors, the veil of pretence about why this area has been ‘chosen’ has always been very thin: see this excerpt from

 (https://www.nic.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Partnering-for-Prosperty-Report.pdf …)

If we look at the area on Google Maps it doesn’t exactly look like an ‘economic heartland’ of industry and scientific research establishments. It’s quite clearly mainly greenfield

The Arc is now expanding its mythical status even further. It now encompasses Bucks, Berks, Beds, Cambs, Herts, Northants, Oxon and Swindon and has its eyes on East Anglia. The number of houses projected for the area seems to continue to rise. I am now hearing possible totals of between 2M and 8M.  This is ludicrous.

Here you can see a tweet from this month (Jan 2019) from Christopher Price, Director of Policy and Advice at the Country Landowners Association (CLA) who has attended one of the vast proliferation of conferences and meetings on the Arc.

TWEET :   Christopher Price @CLAChristopher Replying to @stephhilborne

I spoke at an event on [The Arc] a couple of weeks ago and it was much the same, no interest in impact on climate or biodiversity – just the needs of overseas investors.

If the CLA feels like this, surely this says something truly terrible about the whole project.

It is in the project’s own publications that you can find most of the evidence against both the existence of the entire Expressway and the Arc Project itself. They are, in general, Excessively Good Spin so they are awfully hard to read and the worst facts are all buried in later pages under the ‘eco friendly’ sections – so you have to read the whole thing.

This is the document that the Chancellor’s announcement in Nov 2017 was based on. There are many, many documents on the Arc/Corridor/Lozenge going back for many years.  Also quite a few subsequent to this one.  (and yes, they have misspelt Prosperity in the web reference, it’s the only funny thing about it) is here…

https://www.nic.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Partnering-for-Prosperty-Report.pdf …

Then there are the original Expressway documents like this one which is from before the Arc document above.

http://www.englandseconomicheartland.com/Documents/Oxford%20to%20Cambridge%20Expressway%20strategic%20study%20stage%203%20report.pdf …

This gives info like these two diagrams, again RIGHT AT THE END.

Lots of spin on top of course:

Ox Cam Expressway is the best Spin name EVER for an M25 bypass.


Until I found this document I was COMPLETELY baffled at their claims of saving half an hour between Oxford and Cambridge since it is only 88 miles and we have speed limits in the UK.

But if one realises it starts much further back at Chieveley and refers to freight traffic it becomes slightly more likely.

Even so it will never reduce journey times.

1)  More roads -> increased traffic, proven in many studies.

2) It is the usual disastrous combination of local bypasses, which means lots of entries and exits AND a long distance road.

      As can be observed any normal day on the A34 every single junction causes a jam reducing speeds to 0 to 20mph for several miles.

      On the M4 near Reading one can add several crashes at junctions every single morning.

      The local roads Ox-Cam (as if the Expressway was anything to do with travelling Ox-Cam but let’s pretend for a second) actually move quite well.

3)   It is the LAST bits into Oxford, Cambridge, Bedford, Milton Keynes etc where everything jams.

The Expressway will make PRECISELY NO DIFFERENCE to this.

Especially as its real purpose is to divert traffic including lots of heavy lorries from the M25 for traffic from new Heathrow Terminal 3 and also up from Southampton that is travelling North.

It is also, naturally, going to be the way to bring heavy construction vehicles, heavy construction materials in to build AT LEAST 1M unnecessary houses on Greenfield sites (NO Local demand for these, not even on the Gov’s own figures, esp their revised figures) and then there will be 2M extra vehicles. Outcome disastrous before even starting.

On top of which we already have the M11, M1, M4 and M40. If you look at a map of motorways in the UK you will see our area is NOT as the documents say, motorway-short, it is already POSITIVELY CRAMMED with them.

It will also make no difference to the M25, which has to be the best counter-example ever to the idea that bypasses in any way speed up travel or decrease traffic flow in the places they bypass.

There are excellent statistics on the number of new homes that HAVE BEEN COMPLETED to add to Government figures from the last census (unfortunately 2011 which is rather a long way ago now) then NHBC have figures for all the ones they insure.

They only insure homes from LARGE sites SO, as they say themselves, assume their figures are 80% of actual total.

THUS take their total, divide by 4, multiply by 5 and you should have the correct one. e.g. http://www.nhbc.co.uk/cms/publish/consumer/Media-Centre/Downloads/Q3-Stats-2018.pdf …

This is just for the 3rd quarter of 2018.

If the number of new homes completed is added to the figures from the 2011 census then 27.4M homes is approximately where we are now.

This is ample for a population of 66M especially as over 20% of them have 4+ bedrooms.

The Resolution Foundation has good statistics too although they can’t do percentages. (Note that there hasn’t been a 30% increase in UK Residents owning more than one home. It’s a 44% increase). If 5.2M UK residents own AT LEAST one more home then  at least 20% of the total homes available are owned by people who own another home. This is an enormous percentage. Most of these will not be in long term rental by families as a first home but either empty or in very short term lets. https://www.resolutionfoundation.org/media/press-releases/21st-century-britain-has-seen-a-30-per-cent-increase-in-second-home-ownership/ …

This is before adding corporate ownership of dwellings and the number owned by non UK residents.

These houses are not being used as long term lets.

Very good reasons for this.

1) long term renters are hard to remove

2) AirBNB style lets pay a lot of money

3) if you have a mortgage on the house you can ONLY rent it out short term. The proportion owned by non UK residents is now so high that the design of new homes is being changed to appeal to the non UK resident buyer, who is buying from Artists

Impressions in general as they are totally absent from the entire procedure. Most investment buyers are totally absent from the entire procedure.

A whole new business of firms who manage investment buying for short term letting has sprung up everywhere. Imagine how what a wonderful opportunity this is for developers, people who pay well over the local premium price and buy from artist’s impressions and sales brochures on estates of homes where only ONE home is ever inspected by the local planning inspectorate.

The disastrous rise in investment property sales is now making the price of new homes completely separate and far higher than second hand ones. Even in areas of depressed employment and falling population like Watchet in Dorset has much smaller, inferior houses to the ones in old Watchet being built on the cliffs. They were much more expensive than the second-hand ones.

Barton Park Oxford is being developed by Barton Oxford LLP. See Companies House for details of this company, it is half Oxford City Council and half Grosvenor Homes. Look at who used to own the land (greedy landowner???)

SO….you would think that the houses on this site would be a reasonable price? Far from it.  Surely nobody local would buy a 1 bed flat at £377,000 that is directly on the Eastern Bypass (not more than a few yards away despite artist’s impressions). Or a 3 bed terrace at £675,000.

OCC claim that they have to sell the new houses at these prices they are now because they are going to use the profits to build ‘truly social’ houses on 42% of the site. You can get entire houses in Barton for the price of a 1 bed flat and much nicer houses in Headington for the price of a 3 bed terrace.

Quite where all the AirBNB-style clients (not being used for 90 days, no one to enforce this, full time rental) COME FROM is a mystery to me.

Unfortunately current low interest rates do mean that property investment is a much better option for people with savings and there are lots and lots of agencies to help them and the developers don’t even bother to pretend anything else anymore.

See :  https://sevencapital.com/development/graven-hill-apartments/

Also see Leon Towers, Croydon.

Here you can buy a 1 bed 27 m sq flat for £338,000. OR if you buy it via an SHA it will cost £304,000 and there is a subsidy of £30,000. These blocks are described as ‘decadent living’.

The minimum salary required to get one of these SHA flats it is £35,000 to be allowed to get a quarter share mortgage, plus paying 3/4 in rent and paying a service charge, and it’s leasehold so the value of the freehold remains in the developers possession.

You also need a £15,000 deposit and if you have a baby you have to move out because SHA rules mean that would be overcrowded.

I looked into SHA houses near me about 6 years ago.

They were overpriced: you needed a quite high income to get one, like this, and the rules and regulations were extremely restrictive after purchase. It was a lose–lose offer when there were very nice second hand options in the nearest town that you could have got a better value house with the same deposit.

The salary that you need to get ‘affordable’ housing is usually now in the top 25% of local incomes, and this is to get a mortgage on a quarter share.

Here is Oxford City Council (average salary in Oxford: £26,000) saying who they think ‘affordable’ housing should be for: yes, middle professionals earning £40,000. It’s just a measure of how detached house prices have become from reality due to purchases for property investment and not as first homes >> :

Other matters of concern are:

New Homes Bonus payable to local authorities for many years after they give planning permission for more houses but only available for houses built on greenfield sites;

Help to Buy – available for current houseowners as well as first time buyers and up to a limit of £600,000 but only on New Homes;

S106 payments – only paid for dwellings which are built on land which should not be built on, like farmland say;

the fact that many obligatory payments or community constructions like S106 are never paid or constructed due to the extraordinary inability of developers to make profits – indeed they are now trying to evade these conditions even before getting planning permission, (see photo below with ref to the much publicised Northern Gateway to Oxford project);

the fact that planning departments have been reduced to almost no staff;

the willingness of councils to find ‘exceptional circumstances’ in applications for 1000s of houses on greenfield sites because (and it really is now at this ratio) 1 in every 9 will be ‘affordable’ while the rest are ‘totally unaffordable’;

planning inspectors recommendations after inquiries being disregarded by local authorities as if they were some sort of minor peccadillo (see Essex Garden Cities)……

On top of every other objection

to the Arc / Corridor / EconomicHeartland / Expressway schemes there is ….

Climate Change which is being totally ignored. We can’t afford to lose more greenfields. Greenfield sites are not just somewhere to be removed from ‘rich landowners’ and converted into tarmac and concrete. They are where everyone’s food is grown, everyone’s water is collected and stored from rainfall, everyone’s oxygen is regenerated by trees, and other green plants, and everyone’s local wild ecology lives.

The truth is that despite Professor Rae’s claims in last year’s report (see note at end*), which was based on complex and misleading nomenclature and definitions, we do not have any greenfields to spare in the UK and the area of Grade 1, 2, and 3 farmland where most food is produced is also only a small proportion of the UK landscape.

Despite the claims of Garden Settlement enthusiasts it is impossible for Garden Settlements to be self-supporting without forcing most of the inhabitants to lead a medieval existence of subsistence farming.

Even then the amount of land required to achieve this would be massive and the life that was led by the inhabitants would be very hard and very basic survival.

Blue sky concepts like hydroponic growth inside buildings are energy consuming and have similar problems of tending and caring in reality especially as they also require all the nutrients to be imported, presumably from the fields that were destroyed to create the development?

Natural soil nutrients are created from fallen leaves, dung and dead bodies. Even then to produce enough food for everyone to eat this requires the addition of fertilizer.

No garden settlement in the UK has yet produced any commercial food output despite many of them being in existence for 60 or more years.

We also have to consider the following fact:

We cannot grow arable crops that humans can eat on most of the earth’s surface.

To feed people, the crops that do grow in many places already have to be processed through animals. In the UK 90% of Wales, 90% of Scotland, 70% of Northern Ireland is only able to support Livestock or Sparse. The areas called the ‘wheat belt’, i.e. those where many arable food crops grow, are moving towards

the poles at 160 miles per decade. As they move south in the Southern Hemisphere they will rapidly be in the sea, in the North, as they move north, they will soon be in areas with steep slopes, rock and/or very thin soils. This can’t be corrected. As climate change accelerates the movement will accelerate. https://e360.yale.edu/features/redrawing-the-map-how-the-worlds-climate-zones-are-shifting …



Modern building methods are not like traditional ones.
They rip all the topsoil, all the trees, all the plants straight off the site with huge heavy plant machinery because this is fastest and cheapest.

The topsoil and trees store and control the local water supply. Tarmac and concrete do not. The rain either runs off rapidly to cause floods elsewhere, vanishes down drains or stands uselessly without soaking in. Without topsoil and trees the results will be both droughts and floods. 

Topsoil and trees store all the things that create the local biodiversity. Roots, seeds, plants, bulbs, minibeasts, hibernating minibeasts, hibernating small mammals and reptiles, larvae, eggs, fungi, spores, the type of soil they all need to thrive and grow, the type of trees they need to thrive and grow, the type of plants they need to thrive and grow.

It is absolute nonsense to suggest you can ever even replace the destroyed biodiversity in that place, let alone increase it.  Regular walkers will tell you that each small stretch of their walks has different plants, different wild flowers and with these go different insects, different small animals. You cannot develop the site and then even replace these. You certainly can’t stick two saplings in for every mature tree and claim you have increased biodiversity. It is foolish and ignorant to suppose you can and it is also inexcusable. Similarly you cannot put two saplings ‘somewhere else’.  There is nowhere else that matches that geological strata, that height above sea level, that rainfall, that climate, that particular topsoil and trees which contain all the elements needed to produce that particular biodiversity.  In any case where are you going to put it? You can only put it ‘elsewhere’ by destroying the biodiversity that is in that place in the first place. You certainly can’t replace it with a money payment.  Of course none of this applies to the Expressway or the Arc as they are National Infrastructure projects ‘of vital importance to the country’. (!!!!) So they don’t even have to pretend to replace or increase the biodiversity. Even without climate change, the current disastrous loss of insects, the loss of birds and fish and, indeed, every living thing, this destruction of nature would be appalling. As it is it is rash and foolish in the extreme. Topsoil takes 10,000 years to replace, trees 50-500, that particular local ecology can never be replaced.


I started looking into all this after the November 2017 budget because I was so angry that this was being imposed without enquiry or local consideration. I heard a Cherwell Councillor on the radio celebrating after the announcement. She was saying words to the effect that they were already building lots and lots of houses in Cherwell so lots and lots more wouldn’t matter and how honoured they had been to have secret discussions with NIC for months and months and how super it was that Cherwell had been ‘specially chosen’ (together with every other local authority in the Arc one would surmise).

A year later I continue to be staggered by new discoveries about the depth to which everything connected with property development has now sunk.

For example the ‘gentrification’ of cities by the forced eviction of 100,000s of people who are at salary levels which cannot even allow commuting. It is completely extraordinary.  urbantransformations.ox.ac.uk/blog/2018/challenging-the-gentrification-of-council-estates-in-london/ 

After a year’s investigations I am now sceptical about putting social housing back into the hands of the local authorities and giving them powers of compulsory or other land purchase, especially as there is not a shortage of houses but a price crisis.  Compulsory purchase of existing investment properties that are only being used for very short term lets or are lying empty would seem to be a much more effective strategy. The other solution that would be fairly instant and very effective would be to impose a tax of around 10% of the value on all properties not in use as first homes (i.e. the main dwelling of a family, not first time homes). These can either be first time owner occupied or first home long term rented, i.e. for periods of at least 1 year. Clearly given the number of property investors this would be unpopular but it would either reduce house prices to levels that people who wished to live in them could afford

or else it would raise a lot of tax which could be used to fix the housing problem.

In reality I suspect that the only hope to prevent more and more greenfields being destroyed for short term profits is if the house price plummets. It’s happened before.  https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/weekend-read-the-ghost-estates-that-still-haunt-ireland-1.3181498 …

How much land in UK is built on (etc.)?

Professor Rae’s much quoted report had correct results for the definitions he was using. However both the nomenclature and the definitions were complex and misleading and thus led to errored conclusions by people who had not read the actual details.

Not surprisingly, once you read the actual definition, the UK has less than 0.5% ‘Contiguous Urban Fabric’.  See the below definition.  

This does not mean it does not have huge areas of urban development.

15% of the South East and 11% of England is already developed.

Who owns the land ??

– and the logic of what it’s worth

Yes, certainly the colleges DO own most of the land from Oxford to Cambridge.

It certainly used to be true that you could walk from Ox to Cam without leaving land owned by St John’s College. But they are by no means the only one. 

On top of that, there are various other charities (like Ewelme Charitable Trust) and large estates like the Vernon’s estates at Steeple Claydon.

I suspect this may be another reason for choosing this swathe of land for the “Arc”: the whole area tends towards tenant farmers rather than people who own their own farms. 

The tenants have almost no rights in cases like this even if their families have held those farms for hundreds of years. It is very sad. 

The income from a tenant farm and the value of farmland are very low compared to being the Dukes of Westminster and having development land with property tenancies. 

I can see the £s in front of their faces, think how much they could borrow against a whole lot of development land. For I suspect that if they can stop the Local Authorities making a compulsory purchase grab for it they will not give up the freehold but hold on to it, thus getting property value lease rents instead of farmland. And even if it is compulsory purchased they can all close their expensive-to-run estate departments down. All short term £s and ps these days. No looking ahead. 

However the ENTIRE Arc project relies on some very false logic 

1) Development land in Cambridge/Oxford itself is in very short supply and very high demand because in both cases it surrounds a beautiful tiny city and yet in a lovely rural area. So development land multiplied up to an acres costs £6M per acre compared to farmland at say £20K max per acre.

2) – So if we make hundreds of square miles MORE of it into development land, right out into far cheaper property areas like Milton Keynes and  Bedford, provided it is joined on to Ox and Cam at each end then it will STILL all be worth £6M per acre and we will be RICH

3) – and when Oxford and Cambridge have vanished into a huge urban conurbation of acres and acres of brand new tacky houses and all the countryside has gone and the medieval centres are miles from any countryside it will STILL all be worth £6M per acre…….

………AH!!! Maybe not…..!   I don’t know at what point they will realise this problem. 

Unless of course they can continue to fool absent investors into thinking they are buying houses in either Oxford or Cambridge. 


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