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SoS removes holding direction on South Oxfordshire plan but still intervenes

Words: Laura Edgar
Robert Jenrick / Stuart Graham

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has written to South Oxfordshire District Council to remove the holding direction on the area’s local plan.

However, Jenrick considers there to be a “clear case” for him to intervene in the production of the local plan and has directed the council to progress the plan and adopt it by December this year.

In October, the council’s cabinet recommended that councillors should vote to withdraw the emerging local plan to 2034 and begin work on a new “ambitious” plan.

The cabinet advocated withdrawing the plan from examination by the Planning Inspectorate for a number of reasons, including concerns about the uplift resulting from the standard method from 627 homes to 775 homes a year and that it does not give sufficient weight to the climate crisis.

In January, Jenrick wrote to South Oxfordshire District Council to say he was considering passing control of the area’s local plan to Oxfordshire County Council, which later voted in favour of accepting an invitation from Jenrick – should he extend one – to prepare or revise the South Oxfordshire Local Plan.

The Planner reported on Monday that South Oxfordshire District Council is due to hold a meeting tomorrow (5 March) to discuss progressing the area’s local plan at examination.

A report by head of planning Emma Baker, to be considered at the special meeting, states that progressing the plan would show that the council recognises “that this will allow councillors’ concerns about the plan to be rigorously and independently tested by the local plan inspectors”, and it would also recognise that the council’s planning policy officers are best placed to take the plan through examination.

In his most recent letter to the council, Jenrick explains that he is satisfied that intervening is “justified”. He has considered a number of factors in line with local plan intervention policy criteria, such as whether or not plan policies have been kept up to date, housing pressure, and the wider planning context in the area – such as neighbourhood planning.

Having considered all of this, Jenrick considers there to be “a clear case for [him] to take local plan intervention action”.

Under the powers in section 27(2)(b) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, Jenrick has directed the council to progress the plan through examination and adopt by December this year. The council must now also report monthly to Jenrick’s office on the progress of the plan.

He expects the council to report on matters such as how it will ensure that the plan delivers enough homes.

Sue Cooper, leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “It’s disappointing the secretary of state has felt it necessary to intervene, however, the council remains committed to working constructively with the MHCLG and the secretary of state as well as engaging productively with our partnerships across Oxfordshire.”

The cabinet and council meetings will go ahead as scheduled, where councillors will receive a verbal update from senior officers, but they cannot consider the options set out in the Baker’s report published with the meeting agenda because of these new directions.

Jenrick’s letter to South Oxfordshire District Council can be found here on the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) website (pdf).

Read more:

South Oxfordshire to discuss local plan

SoS issues holding direction on South Oxfordshire plan

SoS considers passing control of South Oxfordshire plan to county council

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

Image credit | Stuart Graham