Monday, 16 May 2022

Uncertainty over whether to scrap homes blueprint

Uncertainty over whether to scrap homes blueprint

SCRAPPING a housing blueprint for South Oxfordshire and starting again would cost £2 million.

South Oxfordshire District Council’s Local Plan, which earmarks sites for 28,000 new homes for the period until 2034, was approved by the last Conservative administration which was ousted in May’s elections by a coalition of the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

The new leader, Liberal Democrat Sue Cooper, has said she wants to reduce the number of houses and “improve” the plan, which is currently undergoing independent examination.

Officers have proposed four options in a report to a meeting of the council’s scrutiny committee on Tuesday. These range from continuing with the proposed plan to withdrawing it.

Councillor Cooper told the Henley Standard: “I don’t like any of them to be honest, not as they are written up in the scrutiny paper.

“I’m just extremely worried about the very high numbers in the plan. I think it’s a huge risk to this area to have such big numbers in there. There are 101 other reasons to take into account as well and we feel we have got a very strong mandate because of the election result to do something about the plan as it exists.”

The four options are:

• Allow the plan to continue through its examination with no changes recommended by the council.

• Allow the plan to continue through its examination but proactively recommend a series of main modifications. These changes will be entirely at the discretion of the inspectors. The plan cannot be changed unless the inspectors find that part of the plan unsound.

• Withdraw the plan from examination. The council will make changes to the document and conduct further public consultation. The council would then submit a revised plan for examination.

• Withdraw the plan from examination and restart the plan making process. This would allow the council to prepare a significantly different plan. It would need to undertake at least two consultations before submitting the new plan for examination. 

The total costs of the production of an emerging plan for South Oxfordshire have been estimated at approximately £5 million.

Officers have recommended option one and the committee will make its recommendation to the cabinet which meets on July 10.

In a report, they say this would require existing staff resources already budgeted for, while option two could cost in the region of an additional £200,000 to £300,000.

The cost of pursuing option three would be an estimated £500,000 to £600,000 over a 14-month period while the last option would cost about £2 million.

Cllr Cooper said the number of proposed houses was too high to proceed with option one, while option two meant any changes would be in the hands of the inspectors. Options three and four would take time.

She said: “They have all got big unknowns with them if you like. I go to bed each night with a different option in mind but none of them is ideal.

“I think Oxfordshire County Council would like us to stick with option one because that’s what they have been preparing for.

“I don’t really know what’s going to happen at this stage. There are planning issues, legal issues and financial issues and they are still in the melting pot.”

Meanwhile, the Oxfordshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England says the plan should be scrapped.

It says that the council’s core strategy, which applies until 2027, is a “sound” document while the proposed local plan was prepared for “little other reason” than to justify the council’s share of the 100,000 houses under the Oxfordshire Growth Deal.

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