Saturday, 17 April 2021

Councils to produce local plan together

Councils to produce local plan together

SOUTH Oxfordshire District Council is to produce a new joint local plan with a neighbouring authority.

It has agreed to join forces with Vale of White Horse District Council less than four months after approving its current plan.

The housing blueprint, which provides for 23,550 new homes to be built by the year 2035, was voted through after members said they were being forced to do so by the Government.

The document will remain in force until the joint plan has been approved, which is expected to take up to five years.

It costs about £1 million per year to prepare a local plan but the council hopes to reduce the cost by about a third by doing it jointly.

The Liberal Democrat and Green coalition which runs the council wanted to scrap the current plan, which was drawn up by the previous Conservative administration in 2019.

They felt it provided for too many homes, many on green belt land, and failed to focus on environmental and sustainability issues.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick intervened and ordered the council to approve the plan by the end of the year or it could put at risk £218million of Government funding for infrastructure improvements across Oxfordshire.

Council leader Sue Cooper, who voted against the plan, said: “It takes quite a long time to come up with a new one but I am quite keen to get on with it.

“Doing these things jointly just makes so much more sense from a cost point of view. Our councils’ interests are also pretty similar.

“Each council will continue to determine its own planning applications, so that won’t change.

“I have been advocating for many years that this is a sensible way forward and it has been done elsewhere across the country.”

Councillor Anne-Marie Simpson, cabinet member for planning, said: “Both councils are strongly committed to tackling the climate emergency and a new joint local plan will give an opportunity to set better environmental standards for development.

“We’ll be stronger working together on this front. We will continue to strongly support neighbourhood planning and a joint local plan brings the added benefit of being much more cost effective.”

The current plan was approved in December by 17 votes to seven, with nine abstentions.

At the time, Cllr Cooper said that many councillors abstained because they didn’t feel it was a free vote and they were being “bludgeoned” by Mr Jenrick.

She explained: “I personally had such a strong disliking of it that I couldn’t bring myself to vote for it. I don’t like being bullied and I didn’t feel sufficiently bullied into voting for it, or abstaining.”

District councillor Sue Roberts used her community interest company Bioabundance to apply for permission to seek a judicial review of the current plan.

However, this week a judge refused this and ordered the company to pay the council’s costs.

The two councils already have the same chief executive and share a temporary office at Milton Park, near Didcot.

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