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Farming, The EU, The Expressway and Why You Should Vote Green [Video]

Spent the early morning yesterday in Otmoor being interviewed by the BBC about our policies on farming, food standards and stewardship of the land.  Lots to say on this, but as always happens with these things, a 10-minute interview gets condensed into a 10-second comment!

On the way back we passed several signs on field gates warning about how the area is under threat from the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway.  As someone who’s been involved in the campaign to stop this ridiculous and unnecessary development I thought I’d add a few more comments by way of a video and also expand a bit on what the Green Party would do to protect our vital green spaces.

This is something I’ve been involved with for a number of years now, right across the county, trying to combat the epidemic of projects that want to destroy these areas in the name of profit and greed.

Yes we need housing, but it has to be the right housing in the right places.  Building on green belt will never be viable in terms of affordable housing as the land is so expensive.  Developers build in a set level of profitability, usually a staggering 20%!  That means that removing protection from green spaces like these just increases the number of high value, unaffordable houses being built.

Not only that, concreting over green spaces means they can no longer lock up the carbon that we need to reduce in our environment, and they also increase the likelihood of flooding as they can no longer absorb the increased level of rain we’re getting as the climate patterns shift.

The Conservatives back all these projects because they are there to help wealthy landowners, developers and investors make a fat profit out of our rural heritage.  As your MP I would resist all these projects, just as I now resist them as a District and Parish Councillor.

Greens CAN WIN

As we’ve just seen in Wallingford, where another Green councillor has just been elected to the county council, Greens CAN WIN and we WILL WIN if people get out and give us their vote.  Even if I don’t win in Banbury, a significant increase in the Green vote there will send a strong message to government that we demand change.  An increased Green vote will be a visible signal of that, whereas another ‘heroic defeat’ for the other parties will get lost in the usual fog of post-election reporting.

Now more than ever we need a strong Green voice, for the environment, for our future and for our children’s future.  Please vote Green on December 12th.

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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.

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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