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Oxfordshire county ‘would take on’ South Oxfordshire’s plan

Words: Laura Edgar
Plans / Shutterstock: 101702500

Oxfordshire County Council has held a vote to decide whether it would accept an invitation from the housing secretary to prepare or revise the South Oxfordshire Local Plan.

In October 2019, housing secretary Robert Jenrick issued a holding direction on South Oxfordshire District Council’s local plan to stop the council withdrawing it.

This followed the council’s cabinet advocating withdrawal of the plan for several reasons, including that the overall supply of homes is considered excessive as it is at least 5,000 homes greater than the need identified for South Oxfordshire, even allowing provision for Oxford City’s unmet housing need. The council is also concerned that the plan does not accord sufficient weight to responding to the climate emergency.

In January, housing secretary Jenrick wrote to South Oxfordshire District Council explaining that the holding direction remained in place and that he was considering passing control of its local plan to Oxfordshire County Council.

At a meeting last week Oxfordshire County Council councillors debated the possibility that – should Jenrick make the request – the county council would prepare the South Oxfordshire Local Plan. Members decided that if such an invitation were extended, the county council would accept it.  

Ian Hudspeth, leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: “This is a very unusual position we find ourselves in. It is something that neither I nor Oxfordshire County Council has proactively sought.

“The only way to have local input in to the progression of South Oxfordshire’s Local Plan was for us to take the difficult decision to accept an invitation if this is received from the secretary of state.

“This way forward would give the very best opportunity for South Oxfordshire residents to feed into the process as it evolves, as well as seeing the many infrastructure benefits that it could provide. By not progressing the local plan we could lose £368 million for much required infrastructure.

“We have a strong and long-standing partnership with our partners at South Oxfordshire District Council on many issues and we want to maintain that for the benefit of people in South Oxfordshire.”

Sue Cooper, leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, spoke to county councillors ahead of their decision.

She said she regrets the decision made by the county council. South Oxfordshire wants to continue working “constructively” with the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and Oxfordshire County Council to keep local plan-making with South Oxfordshire.

“We would like to know more about the secretary of state’s suggestion to propose changes to the plan through the examination process, with the aim of putting our plan at the forefront of the latest bold and far-reaching thinking on the climate emergency rather than being the last of the environmentally damaging plans.

“Our preference remains to discuss the mechanism to propose such changes in a face-to-face meeting with the secretary of state, as he agreed in Parliament in response to a question from Layla Moran [MP for Oxford West and Abingdon]. We are yet to hear back from the secretary of state on our request to hold this meeting.

“If we are prevented from withdrawing this plan and working on a new one ourselves, we must at least be able to uphold the principle of local democracy by proposing improvements.”

After the meeting, Cooper wrote to Jenrick. She explained her concern about the removal of the local plan (eLP2034) from South Oxfordshire, "not only because of the loss of local input for which we have a democratic mandate, but also for planning and financial reasons”.

"Dealing with eLP2034 is an expensive option for South Oxfordshire taxpayers. Our planning officers know eLP2034. Sending it elsewhere will obviously cost a lot more. South Oxfordshire has a long history of good, compliant planning policy. I personally have been involved with creating the previous two local plans. We deliver well in terms of numbers of houses, percentage of affordable, and wish to continue delivering the right houses of the right size in the right places for the right people."

Addressing local concerns about removing land from the green belt, Cooper said the council plans to designate new green belt "as allowed" in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to maintain and even strengthen the protection for Oxford.

"We want ‘Building Beautiful, Building Better’ in line with your stated aims. We are ambitious and would like our local plan to be at the forefront of the latest bold and far-reaching thinking on the climate emergency."

She concluded by asking Jenrick to meet South Oxfordshire District Council to discuss the plan further.

Her letter can be found on the South Oxfordshire District Council website (pdf).

Read more:

SoS issues holding direction on South Oxfordshire plan

SoS considers passing control of South Oxfordshire plan to county council

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