We Can’t Afford to Neglect Affordable Housing

In Kidlington affordable housing is not just difficult to find, it’s pretty much impossible. Recognised as one of the most expensive areas of the district to live in, Kidlington does have some affordable housing in areas but the problem is that most of it is owned and allocated by the City Council. Indeed large areas of the village have been given over to the city’s needs, not least Grovelands which was built almost entirely for the City Council’s use.

And soon we’ll have even more, with the local plan partial review, which was adopted in 2020 after 3 years of objection and protest from local residents and pressure groups, providing yet more housing for the City’s needs with the 50% so-called affordable element having been signed over to the City Council’s control in a closed meeting during the first lockdown in 2020.

We all know that the term ‘affordable housing’ is virtually meaningless in Oxfordshire, but even so, very little is built in Kidlington. Even when the district council’s policy to to ensure that 30% of all new housing on larger estates is ‘affordable’, we hardly see anything being built that fulfils that criteria.

The flats above the Co-op were essentially given over to the flying school for their exclusive use, even though 3 of the apartments were meant to be available for residents needing affordable accommodation. At least 15 of those flats should have been designated affordable, but the district council messed up the planning application and we ended up with just 3 units available, with the rest being let on the open market. The agreement with developer in that case was so badly negotiated that in 3 years only 1 of those flats has been let on an affordable basis. The terms demand that the council must nominate someone within a 28 day window once a year which is almost impossible to do.

Flats on the old Co-Op car park site now almost exclusively let to a local flying school at market rent

15 more flats are due to be built on the Kidlington Garage site at the top of the Bicester Road. When the planning application was agreed the developers were supposed to provide £609,000 in lieu of the 5 affordable apartments. But 6 months later they returned to the planning committee with a viability assessment that argued they couldn’t afford to make any contribution at all. Nothing! Zilch!

This is because the government mandates that developers should be guaranteed a profit of 20% on all developments (how nice it would be for other businesses to be guaranteed a profit by the government!). This leaves it open for developers to game the system and make claims that they can’t meet this profitability threshold and thereby reduce or, as in this case, completely remove their responsibility to provide any affordable units or money in lieu.

I and my fellow Green Councillor Fiona Mawson thought this was wrong and we tabled a motion to refuse the planning application if no affordable element was provided. Sadly, as we and our opposition group are outnumbered on the planning committee, the plans were approved by the Conservative majority.

Subsequently I brought a motion to the council to increase our affordable requirement on larger developments from 30% to 50% to bring us in line with the City policy. As we have agreed to that percentage on the developments being built in and around Kidlington for the City Council, I thought it only fair that we should give our own residents the same consideration. I was pleased to see that the motion was passed almost unanimously.

It’s still sobering to think though that out of around 90 apartments that have been built in Kidlington in the past 5 years, only 3 have been designated affordable and as I explained above, out of those 3, only one has actually been let to a family that needed it.

Cherwell is desperately in need of a change of direction in this issue. We need a council who is prepared to stand up to developers and push for better deals for all our residents. Moreover we need to ensure more affordable developments are brought on line that will benefit local families rather than forcing them to split up as grown children need to move away from their area simply because they can’t afford a home of their own. I believe a change of administration next month could see that better direction and I hope to be a part of that.


Concerns about OCC’s agreement to enter into negotiations with OUFC

I am still trying to remain open-minded about Oxford United Football Club’s proposals to build an 18000 seater stadium on green belt land that forms part of the Kidlington Gap at Stratfield Brake. But as the County and District Councillor for the area that Stratfield Brake sits within, I think the County Cabinet’s agreement to enter into negotiations with OUFC was premature, given that there were still so many unanswered questions a year on from the initial approaches from the club to the council.

Of course we all want to help the club find a new home, but if we’re talking about using public assets to do that, we need transparency about what they’ve done to help themselves. For example, we still don’t have evidence that they’ve have explored all legal remedies to stay where they are.

It also appeared from the club’s own long-awaited report that they hadn’t even started looking at other alternative sites until October last year, after claiming at the beginning of 2022 that they had already explored all other options.

After waiting 8 months for the full report on the club’s plans, it took a further 2 months for it to be circulated to stakeholders in a heavily edited form which doesn’t suggest that they are willing to be as transparent with local residents and stakeholders as they have claimed in the past.

Kidlington Parish Council (KPC) had been waiting for most of last year for the report from the club showing their detailed plans for the main Stratfield Brake site (which they are leaseholders of) so that they could be put out to local consultation. They could not take a decision on relinquishing their lease until they had consulted with the local residents who they represent.

The club has tried to blame the council for delays in making a decision on the initial very broad proposals but that was simply not the case. KPC wanted to make a decision on an informed basis and had been working towards a genuine local consultation, but to facilitate that they needed details of what the club were proposing. Thus any delay in the decision by the council are entirely the fault of the football club. Instead of engaging properly with KPC to help them hold a local consultation, they have gone around them by moving their plans to the site known as the Triangle which KPC has no direct control over.

As a result, I made a plea to the cabinet to include an amendment to the proposals to enter into negotiations with the club that would also commit the council to a full local consultation on the proposals before any final decision was made which should include the option to accept or reject the proposals. This wasn’t even responded to.

As the local county councillor I was disappointed that my call to the County Cabinet for a full local consultation didn’t seem to be endorsed. That would at least have given local residents some comfort that their views, both for and against the proposals, would be properly taken into account.

There was a reference to future engagement with stakeholders but it’s not clear who would undertake this and if it would be at a point where the local community would have a chance to say yes or no to the plans once they know what they are. With so many questions still left unanswered, we need a definite assurance that such a consultation will be part of the final decision process, otherwise we may find ourselves overtaken by circumstances as plans progress and positions become embedded”.

Whilst I’m pleased to see the council took note of local concerns raised in last year’s country-wide engagement exercise, what is being proposed now is a rather different prospect and doesn’t completely deal with local views about having yet another significant development sited on some of Kidlington’s dwindling green spaces.

If we’re going to condone building on the green belt we need to ensure there is quantifiable local support for that. There are a range of views, as we saw at the meeting, and I want to make sure I’m fully representing the balance of local opinion, but until we ask the whole community we don’t know what that is.

My position as the local councillor for the area is that I have to support the majority view of the residents that will be affected by this development whatever they are. I don’t understand why there is a resistance from both the club and their fans as well as the council to asking local people directly what they think of this idea. There may be opposition, but there may equally be majority support for the plans. If so we can proceed on that basis knowing that the club would be welcomed by the village. Surely that would be a better outcome for all concerned, especially OUFC’s owners who I assume wouldn’t want to impose themselves on to a community that would resent them being there.

I will continue to advocate for a full local consultation both internally within the council and with other local representatives, particularly the local MP Layla Moran.


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.