COVID-19 and long-term strategic planning

By Kasia Banaś, Account Director 

It is clear by now that the COVID-19 pandemic will have long-lasting effects on how we live, work and travel. What we don’t know yet, and probably won’t know for some time, is what exactly those changes will be. This has posed a significant challenge to strategic and long-term planning projects such as the Oxfordshire 2050 Plan and the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.

At the last Oxfordshire Growth Board meeting, an extension to the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 timeline was requested and granted. The pandemic is expected to result in significant behavioural changes which will require adjustments to the overall strategy. The team will be looking at accommodating for more flexible working practices, higher demand for good broadband connections or decrease in car travel, to name just a few. However, the full effects of the pandemic on our lives will not be known for some time, months or perhaps even years. While some immediate reaction will have to take place, many aspects of the Plan will require a longer-term approach, resulting in a significant delay to the whole project.

This is however, seen by many as a chance to truly re-evaluate and future-proof the region’s strategic initiatives. To aid this, an open platform was launched to gather new ideas for the Oxfordshire Plan. Some of the themes that are being explored include sustainable communities and lifestyles, new ways of working, future transport and climate change.

Conservation campaigners are also taking the opportunity to help put nature at the heart of plans for up to a million new homes in what is known as the Oxford-Cambridge Arc. Jeff Knott, RSPB Operations Director for Central England, said: “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.”

Ideas which not long ago were considered as radical are quickly becoming a part of the new, post-COVID-19 normal and strategic projects such as Oxfordshire Plan 2050 and the Oxford Cambridge Arc will be an enormous opportunity to take a policy-led approach to adapting to future challenges.