Thursday, 28 October 2021

Council leader upset by plan inspector’s verdict

THE leader of South Oxfordshire District Council says she is disappointed by the comments made by a planning inspector about its local plan.

Sue Cooper, who represents Benson and Crowmarsh for the Liberal Democrats, says the number of new houses proposed is still too high and the document pays little attention to climate change.

She leads the Lib-Dem and Green coalition that took control of the council from the Conservatives who drew up the plan.

She wanted to scrap or rewrite the document but was stopped by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick who ordered it go to inspection with a view to it being adopted by the end of this year.

The inspector, Jonathan Bore, said in his initial review of the plan that building on the green belt would be inevitable.

He said: “There are no reasonable alternatives to the approach taken in the plan to the alteration of the green belt.

“Alternatives would locate development in the wrong places, resulting in longer journeys, higher costs, adding additional pollution and additional pressure on existing settlements and their facilities.”

He also said the plan should provide for 23,550 new houses up to the year 2035, instead of 28,500 by 2034.

But Councillor Cooper said: “We don’t believe it is a good plan for the local area. The number of houses has come from the strategic housing market assessment that was done in 2012 so the information is nearly 10 years out of date.”

She was disappointed at the lack of amendments proposed by Mr Bore.

“He has done very little to it,” said Cllr Cooper. “We are particularly concerned about the number of houses and a figure of 17,000 to 18,000 would be much more agreeable. We are still not getting the right amount of affordable houses. In theory, there will be 40 per cent but it is defined in a number of ways. What we really need is social housing and affordable rents.

“The other big thing is taking action on climate change. It seems absolutely daft to me to build houses now that will have to be retrofitted in five or six years.

“The cost of making a house zero-carbon would be much lower if it was done up front.”

She claimed that Chalgrove Airfield, which is earmarked for 3,000 homes, was an unsustainable location as it would depend on a number of new roads being built. She added: “One of the points that the inspector was keen to make was that he wouldn’t take any account of covid but I wonder if that is sensible.

“Our lives and working habits have changed quite a lot and will continue to change, with a lot more people working from home.”

Meanwhile, Homes England, a government body which is proposing the airfield development, has welcomed Mr Bole’s endorsement.

The inspector said it would provide “an important opportunity to deliver a substantial part of the district’s housing needs on a previously developed site”.

He also said that the transport infrastructure, including the proposed Watlington and Benson bypasses, would provide “substantial benefits to other communities”.

Ken Glendinning, project director at Homes England, said: “Homes England will continue to work with the local community and the council to promote this development to deliver homes and employment on the site.

“We will work to resolve the issues which were highlighted in relation to the runway, which can be dealt with via the planning process.”

Homes England said it would continue to work with the district council, Oxfordshire County Council and other “delivery partners”, adding: “We look forward to continuing to work with them in realising a shared vision for Chalgrove.”

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