At last week’s full council meeting of Cherwell District Council, councillors unanimously passed a climate change emergency motion calling on leader Barry Wood to report back to the council in six months on progress made on several environmental objectives for Cherwell.
As Cherwell’s only Green councillor I supported the motion with some reservations about the council’s true commitment to the difficult decisions that will need to be taken if the district is going to become truly carbon neutral by 2030.
As if to prove that point the council then went on to debate my motion calling for a rethink on plans to build on green belt in south Cherwell.
The motion, seconded by Libdem councillor Conrad Copeland, asked for a temporary pause to allow for new evidence to be taken into account that casts doubt on the number of houses needed to support Oxford’s unmet need – the justification for Cherwell’s partial review of its local plan.
I also raised concerns about the amount of expansion being tacitly agreed to for the Begbroke Science Park that also encompasses large areas of Yarnton. In my opinion, this has been slipped into the review under false pretences, given that this has nothing to do with housing need in Oxford. As a result there’s mounting local criticism of the university’s ambitions to commandeer at least 1000 of the houses intended to meet Oxford’s needs for its own use as part of a new campus at Begbroke and Yarnton.
Chair of the Cherwell Development Watch Alliance, Giles Lewis, spoke in favour of the motion at the packed meeting and read out emails between the council and the university, obtained under and FOI request, that suggested plans to allow the university to expand in the area were already being supported as long ago as 2016.
The Labour group on the council then introduced an amendment which blocked any re-consideration of housing need numbers, even though this might mean more houses that were needed would be built on green belt.
I pointed out that just to offset the amount of carbon produced in building the unaffordable and unneeded houses in the first place would take 572,000 trees over 10 years, or 200 per house, rather than the 1 tree per building that Cllr Wood had suggested during his address on the climate change emergency motion.
It’s clear that neither Labour nor the Conservatives are prepared to take the difficult decisions that are needed to combat the climate emergency. Labour were far more concerned not to be seen to be challenging inflated housing need figures proposed by their colleagues on the city council, whist the Conservatives simply want to be facilitators for large wealthy landowners in the area including the university. The location of the housing clearly has more to do with the university’s ambitions than it does with genuine housing allocation priorities. Either way it ends up with unnecessary and unaffordable housing being built that locals will have no access to on the green spaces at the heart of their community. This is a stitch-up perpetrated on the people of south Kidlington, Yarnton, Begbroke and Gosford!
Libdem Councillor and spokesperson for the Progressive Oxfordshire group, Katherine Tyson said “These plans will simply expand the city’s appalling air quality into our rural community. At one point Labour councillor and vice-chairperson of the council Hannah Banfield seemed to suggest that, as Banbury residents had accepted bad air quality as a result of housing development in their area, the people of south Cherwell should just do the same. The argument that one ward coming to peace with poisoning their residents and children doesn’t mean that another ward should also poison their constituents. That’s not good enough for Cherwell residents. It beggars belief that such a comment could be made from a Labour councillor just after we had voted in favour of a climate change emergency motion”
The motion to pause the local review pending the outcome of the examination of the city council local plan and to separately consult on the university’s plans in Begbroke and Yarnton was successfully amended by the Labour group to an undertaking to review the allocation sites for the 4400 houses. It was carried by Labour with Conservatives abstaining on the vote. The subsequent motion was defeated by 16 votes to 23.