By Chris Cousins, founder of Oxford's POETS campaign group.

The Oxford Mail and Times carry many stories about the claimed need for economic growth in Oxfordshire and beyond.

Developers, politicians and businesses have all talked up the benefits of such growth.

However, there has been little discussion of what growth, and for whose benefit?

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Growth is most commonly measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

GDP consists of the value of goods and services, together with all spending and all income.

However, it is worth unpicking this.

Oxford Mail:

For example, more traffic on the roads contributes to GDP, as does the work for A&E departments or insurance companies from the resulting increase in traffic accidents.

GDP places no value on such things as biodiversity, fine landscape, or air quality.

Indeed, worse air quality can even add to GDP, with more spending on medical treatment for chronic lung disease.

As Robert Kennedy said in a famous speech over 50 years ago, GDP 'measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile'.

Kennedy’s words were enthusiastically endorsed by David Cameron when he was Prime Minister, but there is little sign of such stated support leading to a change in government behaviour.

Oxfordshire faces unprecedented growth.

Current local plans would release large areas of land, including green belt, for development.

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In March the government published proposals for the so-called Oxford to Cambridge Arc which could double the county’s population within the next 30 years.

But while landowners and developers will profit, under present rules there is little chance that such growth will meet the need for genuinely affordable housing.

Recently there have been signs that support is fading for some of the proposals associated with this growth.

Several councils now oppose the building of an 'expressway' between Oxford and Cambridge.

This may represent a belated acknowledgement that attracting yet more traffic onto the roads would be inconsistent with the climate emergency that they have officially recognised.

However, elsewhere old habits die hard.

Oxford Mail:

For example, local politicians have welcomed a government promise of over £100m to widen a section of the A40 west of Oxford, a scheme that will merely move congestion from one place to another.

At the same time a badly needed cycle route between Eynsham and Oxford, alongside a road on which a cyclist was recently killed, has been refused funding, although the cost would be a fraction of the A40 scheme. Climate-responsible investment would focus on public transport, walking and cycling.

Who is behind this drive for growth? Proposals for the Oxford to Cambridge arc originated with the unelected National Infrastructure Commission. The expressway is promoted by Highways England, a government company.

Several thousand houses are proposed at Chalgrove, a location with poor public transport, on land owned by Homes England, which describes itself as 'the government’s housing accelerator'.

The Oxfordshire Growth Board consists of the leaders of the county and district councils (i.e. not directly elected) together with business and other non-voting members. In none of these organisations can members of the public speak to someone who is their directly elected representative.

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This is not a healthy state of affairs for local democracy.

Things are made worse by the increasing centralisation of political power, with local authorities ever more dependent on competing for money from government in return for doing their bidding.

We now also have a group of developers, landowners and others promoting their own “manifesto” to encourage faster growth in the Oxford to Cambridge arc. This would involve removing even more control from locally elected representatives.

Voters – and the Oxford Times - should be asking all candidates in this election where they stand on these issues.

Chris Cousins was chief planning officer at Oxfordshire County Council. He studied geography at University College, Oxford, and town planning at what was then Oxford Polytechnic. He is a founder member of POETS (Planning Oxfordshire's Environment and Transport Sustainably).