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Cherwell’s Conservatives Conflicted on Green Issues Yet Again

During Monday’s full council meeting, Cherwell District Council voted unanimously to support a motion calling on the doubling of tree cover in the district by 2045.

I introduced an amendment to the motion calling on the council to be more ambitious in its proposals and to achieve the doubling of tree numbers by 2030 in line with the council’s declaration of a climate emergency.

Speaking during the debate, I disagreed with Conservative claims that the 2045 target was the only one that was achievable and that the council should only aim to double tree cover “as far as possible”.

We have declared a climate change emergency.  Emergency measures call for committed and ambitious actions, not vague aspirations and get-out clauses.  The climate takes no prisoners.  It doesn’t care what we think is possible, it only responds to what is needed.  We need to move faster and be more ambitious in our climate change mitigation measures and take into account the impact of all council policies on climate change

My amendment was supported by Labour and Independent members, but was blocked by the Conservatives (as usual).

As if to prove the point, in a later debate on the main modifications to the local plan partial review, campaigners from North Oxford Golf Club pleaded with the council to protect their 103-year-old club grounds from proposed development.  This would include the destruction of a large number of trees.  The Council’s proposals also call for the release of yet more green belt land and the virtual erasure of the previously sacrosanct ‘Kidlington Gap’.

Labour and Libdem councillors opposed the motion along with me for the Greens.  The proposals were agreed with all but one Conservative voting them through.

Yet again we see Cherwell’s Conservatives talking the talk on climate change, but when it comes to positive action they default to business as usual

It makes no sense to anyone other than Cherwell’s Tories to propose a measure to increase tree numbers in the district in one motion and then vote in the very same meeting to destroy hundreds of mature trees in the face of massive opposition from local residents and environmental campaigners.

It’s clear from this, and from the lack of any solid progress on the climate emergency proposals 6 months on from passing them, that Cherwell’s Conservatives simply want to box-tick the climate change issue, whilst pursuing broader policies on unnecessary growth that will be hugely damaging to the environment.

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Housing on Green Belt Will Never be ‘Affordable’

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I took a day out of campaigning this week to attend and speak at the public inquiry of the Oxford City local plan.

It was a feeling of déjà vu for me as I spent several days doing the same thing in Cherwell earlier this year when our local plan partial review was being examined.  Cherwell is pushing to build thousands of houses on green belt land in the south of the district and I have been campaigning for the past 2 years to protect those vital green areas for future generations.

I was at the inquiry into the city plans because it’s those proposals that are forcing local district councils to add to their own housing requirements to service what the city claims is an ‘unmet need’.  Whilst I and other campaigners don’t dispute that Oxford has a need for housing for its own workers, claims that they can’t meet that need within their own boundaries are hotly disputed.

It’s generally believed that the reason they can’t meet that need themselves is that they would rather use their own land for economic development to build more shops, offices, hotels, restaurants and student accommodation.  The Labour run city council then expect the surrounding rural districts to meet their housing need for them and Conservative run councils like Cherwell are only too glad to oblige as this gives them a perfect excuse to enrich the local landowners and developers who support them.

It’s sad to see that both Labour and the Conservatives are pursuing a policy of green belt destruction in Oxfordshire when there really is no need.  There are plenty of brownfield sites available to build on, as well as empty properties that should be re-purposed or brought back into use.

I want to see more genuinely affordable housing for people on average incomes. More social and council housing. Rent controls on private landlords and an end to unfair developer lease & ground rent charges, but we will never see large amounts of affordable housing in Oxfordshire if they are built on high value green belt land.  The only reason these areas are targetted is because they are ripe to be used by developers to build high value executive homes and mini-mansions to make a massive killing.

There should not be development on Green Belt land except where there is an incontrovertible need to do so.  Our precious green spaces should not be handed over the developers simply to make huge profits for landowners and speculators, especially when much of that housing is not affordable in any real sense.

Green spaces are also now even more vital to help combat climate change and flooding.  Concreting them over and adding more roads and houses with inefficient heating systems just piles on the pressure to the environment and exports Oxford’s poor air quality standards to the rural areas of the county.

The Green party has pledged to build 100,000 genuinely affordable socially rented properties every year for 10 years.  Houses that will be built to the Passive House standard meaning they will be both sustainable and affordable to maintain and heat.

This will not only provide much-needed homes for people of average incomes, they will be the right houses in the right places and will also provide employment for thousands of builders and manufacturers.

This is on top of retrofitting every house in the country to make them more energy efficient as part of our Green New Deal.

As a founding member of a housing co-op in London in the 1980s, I also want to encourage other ways of getting people into affordable housing such as Land Trusts and Co-ops and see more social and council housing built.

You can find out more about our policies on housing in our manifesto here https://www.greenparty.org.uk/assets/files/Elections/Green%20Party%20Manifesto%202019.pdf

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Cherwell Passes a Climate Change Emergency Motion but Labour and Conservatives Still Vote to Destroy Greenbelt

imageAt 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.