Monday, 17 February 2020

Council leader asks to meet minister in local plan wrangle

THE leader of South Oxfordshire District Council has demanded a face-to-face meeting with a minister over its local plan.

Sue Cooper was responding to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, who intervened when the Liberal Democrat-Green coalition which runs the council threatened to withdraw the plan produced by the former Conservative administration.

He said that scrapping the housing blueprint and starting a new one could create uncertainty and lead to speculative planning applications.

It could also put at risk £218million of government money earmarked for infrastructure improvements across Oxfordshire in return for councils agreeing to accept thousands of new homes.

Last month, Mr Jenrick wrote to Councillor Cooper warning that he might prepare or revise the document himself, ask Oxfordshire County Council to take responsibility for it or tell the district council what to do.

He said: “This Government is committed to ensuring every area has an up-to-date and suitably ambitious local plan in place.

“As such, I would welcome your thoughts on any alternative options that would allow the plan to proceed without the need for formal government intervention.”

Councillor Cooper replied that the coalition wanted to withdraw the plan because it made provision for 32,600 new homes when the requirement was for 22,800 and there was no concern for the environmental impact.

She said: “It is my group’s view that the emerging local plan was rushed through to submission to meet the March 2019 deadline set by the housing and growth deal without taking due consideration of the sustainability of certain strategic sites, of the unwarranted inclusion of many contentious green belt sites and of the special nature of South Oxfordshire and its areas of outstanding natural beauty.

“Representations from residents, parish councils and environmental groups, together with the overwhelming message received at the ballot box last May, are testament to the unpopularity of the emerging plan.

“I continue to seek a pragmatic way forward which results in the temporary direction being lifted and full planning powers regarding the emerging local plan being restored to the district, avoiding a dangerous precedent and the undermining of local democracy. In order to discuss specific ways in which appropriate means could be found to modify the plan in response to our concerns regarding its soundness, I firmly believe that a face-to-face meeting with you is now essential.

“My cabinet remains committed to securing essential infrastructure funding. We are, however, frustrated that funding is linked to the emerging local plan. High housebuilding rates in South Oxfordshire have already produced a desperate need for improved transport infrastructure.”

She said that adopting the plan while also starting a new one would be “financially irresponsible” given the council tight finances.

The council is thought to be running an annual deficit of £3.5million, which Cllr Cooper has blamed on the previous administration for failing to increase council tax in line with inflation.

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