Mayor says he is not against new development but it needs to be right

Mayor of St Neots, Cllr Stephen Ferguson. 

Mayor of St Neots, Cllr Stephen Ferguson. - Credit: SNTC

The whole idea of the Ox-Cam Arc is that development can be planned strategically across the whole region, and not constrained by arbitrary lines such as county boundaries.

There are lots of arbitrary lines: The Arc comprises 23 local planning authorities; a mayoral combined authority, and eight transport planning authorities.

St Neots is exactly the sort of community that the “joined-up thinking” of the Ox-Cam Arc is intended to benefit. Tucked away in the south west corner of Cambridgeshire, we share a border with Bedford Borough Council to the west and Central Bedfordshire Council to the south.

The Government manifesto for the Arc says: 'this means that planning at the local level for homes, business space, infrastructure and the environment is not integrated'.

It goes on to state: 'we cannot continue to plan for transport, the environment and housing separately, or to think of economic development as separate from housing provision and commercial development'.

A great idea on paper, but how does it look on the ground? The answer, so far from St Neots, is “pretty awful”.

To the east, we have the emerging prospect of 39ft embankments and viaducts which might be constructed as part of the East-West Railway, which is the strategic transportation link at the heart of the Ox-Cam Arc project. 

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One of the aims of the EWR is to open up rural areas to housing development, and for those new settlements to enhance the case for the railway.

It is ironic then that the EWR’s newly announced preferred routes for the railway all pass within close proximity to the Wintringham and Love’s Farm East housing developments in St Neots East, which is home to exactly the type of strategic sustainable housing expansion that the Ox-Cam Arc promotes.

Two developers have worked for more than a decade in planning these new housing estates, which by 2030 will have provided 5,000 new homes, with the full support of the district and town councils. 

However, neither received the courtesy of even a phone call from the EWR Corporation to inform them that many of these houses could be potentially blighted by the construction of an elevated diesel railway running alongside the full length of the development. So much for strategic planning.

To the west, Bedford Borough Council is planning to build Dennybrook Garden Village, a new town of 10,800 houses 1.5 miles across the A1 from the Eatons. This new development will be twice the size of the St Neots East and is roughly equivalent to welding a town the size of Biggleswade to St Neots’ western boundary.

To the south, Central Bedfordshire Council is also considering meeting its housing needs by building a 2,500 home development in Tempsford. This development is deliberately chosen to be close to the new EWR and East Coast Mainline railway station.

Combined Dennybrook and Tempsford will increase the population of the St Neots conurbation by 30,000 and bulldoze over more than 400 hectares of prime agricultural land.

Although residents of these new “towns” will inevitably rely on St Neots’ facilities and services, they will likely contribute nothing to Council Tax and Community Infrastructure Levy income necessary to build the infrastructure to support the massively increased population.

Because the developments are on the wrong side of invisible county boundaries, our town and district councils will have little influence in the planning of the developments.

Residents will also have very little democratic voice, unable to elect MPs or councillors who will represent their interests in local and national politics.

I am not against the Ox Cam Arc. There is a need for more housing, more jobs, and better transportation in the East of England.

However, the early results are not promising, as the Arc is being used as a justification to cause exactly the sort of strategic development problems that it is intended to resolve.