Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Millions in funding could be lost if housing plan is axed

Millions in funding could be lost if housing plan is axed

COUNCILLORS have been warned they are putting tens of millions of pounds of government funding at risk by stalling the South Oxfordshire Local Plan.

The warning came from Tom Walker, director general for decentralisation and growth at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, in a letter to South Oxfordshire District Council.

The plan, which outlines sites for 28,000 new homes to be built by 2034, was approved by the council earlier this year when it was controlled by the Conservatives.

However, a coalition of the Liberal Democrats and Greens took control following the elections in May and they have said they are considering revising or withdrawing the document.

New leader Sue Cooper has said she wants to reduce the overall number of homes in the plan and to review the number of affordable homes.

Mr Walker warned the council that it is jeopardising the £218 million funding agreed by the Government for infrastructure funding across Oxfordshire to mitigate the effect of extra housing.

In his letter to council chief executive Mark Stone, he says the Government understands the council’s rationale.

But he continues: “If you and your colleagues do decide to withdraw the plan it will not be without consequences.

“It would immediately put at risk the significant investment that the Government has made available to South Oxfordshire and the wider county.

“Without certainty that the full number of homes will be delivered and that these are dependent on the infrastructure ask, the funding will not be contracted.

“Withdrawing the plan would also undermine the wider ambitions and commitments of the [Oxfordshire] Housing and Growth Deal and therefore potentially impact future investment.”

The plan was due to be discussed by the council last month but the meeting was cancelled. Now it will be discussed at a meeting on Thursday.

Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak, who represents Henley on the council, said the delay was creating uncertainty.

He said: “We don’t know what the plan is going to look like and whether it will be modified or withdrawn altogether.

“The funding is a worry. If the plan is withdrawn or modified substantially then they say we will lose it. It is not just this pot of funding. In a couple of years’ time there will be more money coming down the line and that would also be at risk.”

Cllr Gawrysiak said he was happy with the plan as it is and was worried that if it was revised then Henley might be asked to accommodate extra housing on top of its current allocation.

He said: “At the moment the plan recognises that we are severely constrained in Henley as to the number of houses we can actually build because of the roads and pollution.

“We came away with 150 homes and we have already built around 80 of those. If the plan goes down the tubes it may be that we are allocated more homes, which we would fight.

“I am also in favour of the plan because we have a duty in South Oxfordshire to co-operate with Oxfordshire County Council.

“They have identified a number of homes that they cannot build within Oxford, so we are contributing towards that target by allowing them on the outskirts of the city.”

Councillor Cooper said the council wanted to comply with the Government’s demands but still had to consider its options.

She said: “I know that changing the plan or withdrawing it will put the money at risk but I still feel the number of houses is too many.

“Many of the sites are in the green belt. I don’t like the existing plan but should we go along with a bad plan just so that we can get two or three roads built with the money?

“We need to look at the bigger picture. It is a difficult decision because the funding is needed.

“There has got to be the correct infrastructure in place to build these homes.”

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