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City Deal: more questions than answers

Monday, 04 March 2013 13:06

Oxford's South Park Oxford's South Park Photo: © Jane Tomlinson

We have written to the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg asking for clarification on the processes behind the Oxford 'City Deal' as the details of the Deal are negotiated.

We have told him that we welcome the prospect of increased funding for the area but that we are not currently clear on how, as is claimed, this will allow local people a greater say. It appears to us that local people will have less of a voice, due to the seemingly undemocratic nature of the proposed structure and governance.

The opportunity for consultation must be genuine, not just lip-service.

Some of the proposals contained in the original bid would inevitably involve substantial development in the Oxford Green Belt (a fact that was curiously omitted from the document). And the wording indicates that development of the Oxford Northern Gateway Area Action Plan might be abandoned, undermining the interests of the local community.

City Deals are potentially good news stories. But right now they risk being seen as shady and underhand negotiations to push through development that has not been accepted as part of normal, democratic planning applications. Instead of an unelected 'Greater Oxford' QUANGO running the Deal, we think a more democratic way of achieving the objectives in the Deal would be to re-introduce the previous Structure Plan arrangement (discontinued to make way for the now defunct South East Plan). This involved Oxfordshire County Council (an elected body) setting the development parameters within which District and City Councils worked. This was not only democratic but covered all, not just part, of the County and was therefore a more complete plan.

We have asked Mr Clegg:

  • What say will the public have in any developments proposed under the City Deal?  
  • Will issues be decided by a majority vote of the Board even if the relevant Local Authority is strongly opposed?
  • Why the model of the Country Structure Plan is not being used?

And we've asked him to confirm that:

  • There will be no review of the Oxford Green Belt. And if a review is proposed, will you confirm that it must be subject to a public enquiry?
  • Normal planning procedures will remain in place for issues affecting the Northern Gateway Area, including full public consultation.
  • Each local authority will continue to determine on its own behalf the development applications within its own area.

We need to be reassured by the processes so that the City Deal can be a genuine opportunity for a positive dialogue about improving Oxfordshire, rather than a divisive battle over development plans prepared behind closed doors.  

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