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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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Thank You From Your New Councillor

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Well this is a post I never expected to be able to make!

As most of you will know I won the election for Kidlington East yesterday and am now a brand new district councillor, as well as a councillor on Kidlington and Yarnton Parish councils.

The district election was a close run thing, with a majority of only 73, which required a re-count to confirm (not that anyone actually asked for a re-count but that’s another story!).

I now join hundreds of new Green councillors across the country in what can only be described as a tsunami of Green votes that have given us our greatest gains in recent memory (possibly ever!).

It’s fantastic to be a part of such a historic event and I look forward to doing all those things I promised I would do during the election. Holding the council to account on local services, defending our green spaces and making sure Kidlington gets a fair hearing at council meetings.

I will also be focussing on climate change, as you’d expect from a Green councillor.

My thanks go to everyone who voted for me and believed in me, as well as my dedicated team of helpers and supporters, many of whom went the extra mile for me in the final days, working tirelessly in the run up to what was a very close election.

It’s been a very hard 10 weeks of campaigning and I’m only just coming to terms with actually winning after 7 years of being a runner-up.

Everything we did during the campaign counted towards that result. Just missing out one step or one person not being there could have cost us the win.

My thanks also go out to my partners on the Libdem side without whom none of this would have been possible. Special thanks to Neil Fawcett, Alaric Rose, Doug Williamson, Conor McKenzie, Katherine T. Tyson, and of course my superb MP Layla Moran. Congratulations also go to Conrad and Katherine who both also won their seats in Kidlington West and on Kidlington Parish Council. I’m very happy not to be the only newbie on both counts!

My congratulations also go out to all those other Oxfordshire Greens who won yesterday, especially Robert Nixon in Bicester, Cheryl Briggs in Abingdon, Robin Bennett in Berinsfield and Sue Roberts in Wallingford.

It’s all been a massive team effort and I feel very honoured to have been given so much help to get to this place. I hope I can justify your faith in me.

I’ll be sending out personal thanks to everyone in the coming days, but for now I hope you’ll enjoy basking in the glow of what has been a great few days for the Greens and will hopefully go on to be a sign of things to come!

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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!