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Planning Inspector Raises Doubts Over Oxford City Council’s Housing Figures

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Huge areas of green belt land are under threat in Kidlington, Yarnton and Begbroke

A number of fundamental questions about Oxford City Council’s submission of its local plan have been raised by the planning inspector in his initial questions and comments.  These questions are strikingly familiar to anyone who was at the Public Inquiry into Cherwell District Council’s Local Plan Review earlier this year.

At the hearing, local campaigners called on Cherwell to delay any further work on the plan to build 4400 houses on prime Green Belt in Kidlington, Yarnton and Begbroke until the true figures of housing need in Oxford were known.

Cherwell’s local plan review is predicated on a perceived obligation to help meet Oxford City’s housing need.  Campaigners against the plans have repeatedly argued that Oxford’s need cannot be quantified until their local plan has been agreed, approved and published.  Something the City Council has been slow to progress.

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MP Layla Moran with Ian Middleton in Yarnton

Instead, District councils have relied on guesswork and a ‘working assumption’ from the Oxfordshire Growth Board (OGB) based on figures in the 2014 Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA).  A report that itself has been highly criticised since its publication.

In response, the City Council commissioned an update to the SHMA.  This demonstrated that the original figures were over-estimates, a conclusion backed by follow up analysis from an independent planning consultant presented to the Cherwell hearing.  Both the city and district councils, including Cherwell, have sought to ignore the implications of these reports, but the inconsistencies have not escaped the planning inspector.  These include:

  • The fact that figures being used to underpin assumptions of need are now over 8 years old
  • That the 2018 SHMA points to a significantly lower housing need than that shown in the 2014 version and that these figures have not been incorporated into the City’s plan.
  • Inconsistencies in estimated housing capacities in the City’s plan and the ‘Growth Deal’ proposals
  • Suggestions of prescriptive planning policies that preclude development in numerous key areas
  • Concerns over double counting of homeless numbers where new households are ignored
  • Inappropriate market ‘uplifts’ producing around a 30% over-estimate of housing need

Ian Middleton, Cherwell District Council’s new Green councillor said

“The inspector’s comments are a clear vindication of the position taken by groups opposed to Cherwell’s plans to devastate green spaces in South Cherwell on the basis of an assumed need that has been significantly inflated.

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Cllr Ian Middleton at the Cherwell Public Inquiry

During the public inquiry, Cherwell resolutely refused to listen to calls from myself and MP Layla Moran to delay their plans until the City’s need had been properly established.  It’s now clear we were right and the need to suspend Cherwell’s local plan review, regardless of their planning inspector’s verdict, is even more urgent.

The assumptions on housing need used by the OGB have now been undermined by 2 independent studies, and a planning inspector.  How much more evidence does the council need to admit that their proposals in Kidlington, Begbroke and Yarnton are misguided and woefully unsound?

It would be hugely irresponsible for a council to impose such sweeping and irreversible damage on local communities when they know that the data underpinning those plans is at best questionable and at worse completely wrong”

The planning inspector is expected to publish his response to the Cherwell Local plan review in the next few weeks.

You can see the full text of the planning inspector’s comments and questions on the city council plan here https://www.oxford.gov.uk/downloads/file/6397/ic1_-_inspectors_initial_questions_and_comments_to_occ

 

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The Conservatives Blame Labour for their Plans to Destroy Kidlington’s Green Belt. Unfair? Yes, but then again…

crAGNoGUflXzqQd-800x450-noPadThere are campaign leaflets flying around from the Tories blaming Labour for ‘forcing Cherwell to build on Green Belt land”, I think that’s a huge stretch of the truth.

Cherwell’s Conservative leadership and the majority of councillors came up with and voted for the plans to destroy large parts of green belt in north Oxford for reasons of their own. They used the City Council’s claims of ‘unmet housing need’ as an excuse to facilitate investment and development opportunities for the university and other large landowners.

We begged the council to take a step back from their plans in view of the fact that the City hadn’t published a local plan proving their ‘unmet need’ This would have been a perfect justification, but they refused. So outrageously revisionist to claim it was all Labour’s fault!

But this statement in the Oxford Times from the City Council’s Labour leader Susan Brown does place their cards firmly on the table. She would rather continue to focus on economic and business development than provide affordable accommodation for their own needs.

There are multiple sites within the boundaries of the city that could be used for medium to high density housing to solve at least the immediate problems for housing the the city centre and in East Oxford.  At least 4 of those site are slated for development, predominantly for business use.

It’s plain that the council has repeatedly and recklessly pursued economic development  instead of housing under the leadership of Bob Price and the new Labour leader intends for this to continue.

Now their new leader has made it clear that her intention (and presumably Labour’s) is to push that envelope even further.  Increase business development in the city (even though unemployment there is virtually zero)  and press district councils to plough up their green spaces and destroy natural habitat to build houses to fulfil their needs.

Presumably Ms Brown is also happy to see the city export it’s obscenely high levels of pollution and appalling air quality into the green areas around her ever expanding empire like some post-apocalyptic behemoth, consuming everyone and everything in its path.

That’s not a vision of sustainability or quality of life I see as particularly attractive for anyone.

Yes we need to build houses, but they need to be the right houses in the right places.  If Oxford city want to deal with their own housing crisis (assuming that is proven in their own yet to be completed local plan) then the right place for housing is within their own confines.  At least it is before the expect other areas to cover their backsides!

It was good to see Labour members on Cherwell District Council supporting campaigners in defending our precious green belt, but they really do need to have a word with their colleagues on the city council and get them to set their own house in order, literally!

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Ian Middleton for Kidlington East

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I’ve stood in every local election since I joined the Green Party in 2012, but this one feels more special.

Having been involved in the recent campaign to try to persuade the District Council to think again about it’s review of the local plan, I feel I really have something extra to fight for in this election.

I wrote a detailed response to the council plans to tear up large swathes of the green belt between Kidlington. Begbroke and Yarnton and plonk 4400 houses in the middle of an area with overloaded roads and infrastructure.  A plan that would see the three communities amalgamated into one sprawling conurbation, created not to serve local affordable housing needs, but to supposedly provide housing for workers in the city, even though most of the jobs are based in the east.

You can read the full response here

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As everyone involved knows the oft-touted claims that this will include so-called ‘affordable’ housing is laughable.  Valuable green belt land will become ten times more valuable once it becomes ripe for development and the landowners and luxury house builders will stand to make a fortune.

I along with several others were allowed a five minute representation to the councillors in the chamber, some of whom it was later reported couldn’t even be bothered to listen to those who had come to plead their case.  One was even photographed using a mobile phone during the speeches!

Seeing the lack of connectedness demonstrated by the predominately Conservative council enraged me more than I imagined it would.  If you watch the video footage from the planning meeting a few weeks ago you can hear me heckling quite loudly throughout some of speeches from Barry Wood and Colin Clarke.

Normally I wouldn’t do something like that.  They deserve their time to speak just as I and the other campaigners had.  But being the last to have their say (as Cllr Wood ensured he would be) they were able to simply brush aside the very salient points raised by protesters and other councillors.

Tory councillor after Tory councillor stood up and gave no logical reason why these plans should be forced through in the face of what everyone recognised was an historic level of opposition from the people in the district they represent.

Over 1500 responses were given to the plans, nearly all of them objecting to this wanton and unnecessary destruction of our precious green belt.  Yet the council seemed oblivious to them, to the cogent arguments put forward by speakers and even to the legal opinions that were presented by the two main campaigning groups.

The cavalier attitude of Barry Wood, who I’d previously challenged for seeming to pre-judge the outcome of the consultation, was amply demonstrated when he and his fellow councillors abdicated their responsibility to the people of Cherwell and threw their objections at the feet of the planning inspector.

His closing argument was that it was the inspector who would make the final decision not them, even though they were elected to represent us.  As I suspected months ago, the council had already made its mind up, and the consultation was simply a box ticking exercise.  The fate of our green spaces, our wildlife habitats, our clean air and the distinctiveness of our communities has been thrown into the lap of an outside agency because the Tories on the council didn’t have the guts or the inclination to properly consider the alternatives.

So I hope you’ll forgive me some heckling out of pure frustration at the lack of professionalism and respect for democracy being shown by these people.

That’s why I want to win this election.  I want a guaranteed voice in that chamber so that I can represent the views of the people in Kidlington, Yarnton and Begbroke – an area that is so remote from that chamber, way up at the other end of the district that people like Barry Wood and Colin Clarke feel it’s safe to throw us all under the bus for the sake of expediency.

It’s also why the Green Party in Kidlington is working with the Liberal Democrats in this election to elect me in Kidlington East and Alaric Rose in Kidlington West.  You can see our joint statement about that here.

I hope you’ll give me and Alaric a chance to be a strong voice for you after May 3rd.

You can see the full video of the planning meeting (including the heckling) on the Cherwell District Council Website.  You can see my speech to the chamber here.

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