Friday, 03 April 2020

Housing plan back on track as council accepts warning

Housing plan back on track as council accepts warning

THE South Oxfordshire local plan is back on track after months of wrangling between the district council and the Government.

The council voted on Thursday last week for the document to undergo independent examination by a planning inspector despite many members being unhappy with it.

Councillors had been unable to even debate the development blueprint since October when Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick took temporary control of the process.

This came after the controlling Green and Liberal Democrat coalition threatened to withdraw or scrap the document agreed by the previous Conservative administration, saying it had made provision for too many houses and had not taken into consideration the environmental impacts.

Mr Jenrick warned that the Government, or Oxfordshire County Council, might take over responsibility but last week he told the district council it could retain control provided the plan made sufficient progress in order to be adopted by December.

Councillor Leigh Rawlins, cabinet member for planning, said: “It’s disappointing that it has taken this long to reach this stage.

“We are very happy that it is with the district council and we have control. We are confident and there is going to be a structured approach to this. There will be amendments proposed through the examination process.”

But Lib-Dem councillor Alexandrine Kantor said: “The emerging local plan is not good enough.

“Voters of South Oxfordshire voted 10 months ago for a change. They wanted a local plan to work for the residents it impacts, not to make developers any richer.

“Today, the mask has fallen. There is no local democracy. To every South Oxfordshire resident, I’d like to say that I am sorry, we tried. I’ll support the motion because it isn’t a choice.” Cllr Rawlins said: “We are building too many four-bedroom homes and that needs correction. The number of houses is very, very high. We now think there is enough scope to reduce the number a little.

“The next stage is to go forward with the examination and work with the inspector to get on and propose changes. We are very determined to deliver on the aspirations that residents set out in the elections.”

Council leader Sue Cooper added: “It’s now time to focus on doing everything we can to tackle the climate emergency, including developing new planning policies that seek to ensure new buildings and developments in the district are genuinely sustainable, meet high-quality environmental standards and meet local needs.”

Mr Jenrick had said previously that scrapping the plan 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 tens of thousands of new homes.

Last week, he said he would be conducting monthly checks to ensure the plan progressed sufficiently.

In a letter to the council, he said: “Should a significant delay occur… or should the plan fail at examination, I will consider taking further intervention action to ensure an up-to-date local plan is in place.”

Mark Stone, the council’s chief executive, said: “Our priority is to ensure we have a dedicated professional planning team to deliver the local plan in accordance with the direction, which is fully resourced, with clear leadership to support the examination process.

“I intend to take forward a ring-fenced team to help address the council’s aspirations and concerns around environmental standards, regeneration and housing delivery and explore how best to achieve this through the planning process.”

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