Monday, 14 October 2019

Government steps in over local plan uncertainty

Government steps in over local plan uncertainty

PLANS to withdraw a housing blueprint could be halted by the government.

South Oxfordshire District Council is due to discuss the next steps for the local plan tonight (Thursday) after its cabinet voted in favour of withdrawing.

The existing plan was put together by the old Conservative team and the new Green-Liberal Democrat coalition has suggested starting on a new plan after criticising the number of homes and environmental approach.

However, the communities secretary has said he is now thinking about whether or not to take the matter out of the district council’s hands.

Robert Jenrick MP sent a letter to Sue Cooper, leader of the district council, warned the authority “not to take any step in connection with the adoption of the plan” while he considers the best way forward.

He added: “Withdrawing the plan at this stage is instead likely to create uncertainty and expose communities to speculative planning applications.

“I would like to work constructively with you to ensure that South Oxfordshire is able to deliver the high-quality homes and infrastructure required to support jobs and growth in the local community.”

The latest development means that, while tonight’s meeting will go ahead, there will be no resolution until the government makes a decision.

Councillor Steffan Gawrysiak told the Standard that the plan had already cost £5 million, while another one would cost around £2 million.

Members of the district council felt building 28,500 homes before 2034 was unreasonable.

Suggestions that the plan could be modified or withdrawn entirely were condemned by the government and warnings were issued about the potential loss of £218 million worth of infrastructure funding.

Councillor Gawrysiak said: “It is not just South Oxfordshire, but all of the district councils and the county council.

“They have all written to the district council to tell them not to remove this. We have a duty to work with other councils and in my opinion the floodgates would be open to speculative developments if they did withdraw it.

“There is a whole domino effect from losing out on the funding. I personally welcome the letter from Mr Jenrick, because it gives us the opportunity to pause and think about this strategy.

“The government has the legal right to take over, but he has stopped short of that. He has just said that no decision can be made until he comes back to the district council.

“I have always said that the local plan should not be withdrawn and go forward as it is. If they want to submit amendments then that is fine, but it should not be at the expense of the funding. 

Councillor Cooper said starting on a new “ambitious” plan was not easy but it was “the right thing “ to do.

Cabinet members voted unanimously in favour of the motion put forward by councillor Leigh Rawlins, which was due to be voted on at full council tonight.

Henley MP John Howell said: "All he's done is taken a decision now to stop them coming to a decision and it's not the first time he's done that.

"Previous secretary of states have done that with a number of other districts around the country where there has been endless argument about the local plan.

"All this endless argument does is make it more and more likely we have speculative development and we have no control over development in the district. It also means we would have no ability to control the infrastructure because of the money that's at risk.

"People have to make their mind up as to whether they want the infrastrucure, whether they want places like Culham Science Centre to grow with high value, high income jobs.

"What is going to happen now is there will be continued discussions between the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the district council to take this thing forward.

"I think the best option is for the plan to be sent for independent inspection. That's where the issues can be really sorted out and made clear.”

Councillor Cooper and Rawlins have been approached for comment.

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