Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Housing plan set to be shelved despite funding loss threat

Housing plan set to be shelved despite funding loss threat

COUNCILLORS recommended withdrawing the emerging South Oxfordshire Local Plan and replacing it with a new “ambitious” housing blueprint — despite serious concerns about losing government funding.

Members of South Oxfordshire District Council’s cabinet unanimously approved the move on Thursday last week, which was set to be ratified by the full council last night (Thursday).

Suggestions that the plan could be withdrawn or moderated were criticised after the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government stressed a funding pot of £218 million would be at risk.

Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak, who represents Henley on the district council, said he intended to raise his concerns at the meeting.

He said: “The potential problem for Henley is that we might get more homes rammed into the town.

“Oxfordshire County Council has already said the transport network in Henley cannot cope with more homes so we will vigorously defend our position.

“But the main problem is, if they decide to withdraw the plan, it jeopardises the government funding.

“The real danger is that the government will look at South Oxfordshire in the future and say there is no point dealing with us because we break promises.”

The existing local plan, which features 28,000 new homes, was approved under the previous Conservative leadership team.

But following the elections in May, a Green and Liberal Democrat coalition have raised concerns with the proposals, including sites planned for housing.

Councillor Sue Cooper, leader of the district council, felt the number of homes in the plan was too high.

She said: “We have considered the detailed matters relating to the local plan long and hard over the past few months and I’m pleased that we’re making a clear, decisive and strong recommendation to councillors.

“In making this recommendation, my cabinet has sought to do the right thing, not the easy thing, and we will continue to work positively and constructively in the best interests of all South Oxfordshire residents while also tacking the climate emergency, which we have an enormous responsibility to address.”

The recommendation to withdraw the local plan follows a letter from Tom Walker, director general for decentralisation and growth, which was sent to chief executive Mark Stone.

He warned the council the £218 million funding for infrastructure across Oxfordshire would be cast into serious doubt. But Councillor Leigh Rawlins, who tabled the motion to withdraw the plan, said he is relishing working on a new plan.

He said: “Subject to the support of councillors, I’m looking forward to getting to work on an ambitious, sustainable new local plan that properly reflects the needs of our residents.”

The full council meeting will also explore whether or not to bring forward revenue expenditure on a new local plan, currently estimated at £2 million.

Councillor Gawrysiak added: “To go ahead and spend another £2 million is just accountancy madness!

“The existing local plan has cost about £5 million, so that is £7 million of money that we have just not got in South Oxfordshire.

“It will be extremely interesting when they are deciding the budget if they decide to raise council tax.

They are asking the government for financial support when we have just rejected their help. It is a bit of a mess.”

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