CPRE Oxfordshire has campaigned strongly against the extreme housing numbers set out in the Oxfordshire Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) - 100,000 new houses by 2031. We therefore welcome recent information published by West Oxfordshire District Council that suggests the SHMA is out of step with Government projections and that the growth figures it is based on are over-inflated. It’s what we have been saying for ages!!
West Oxfordshire’s draft Local Plan is based on a housing target of 525 houses per annum, below the 660 per annum target set by the Oxfordshire SHMA. (See WODC Housing Position Statement, July 2015).
A public examination of the Plan is due to take place shortly, led by an Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State. The Inspector's response to WODC (30 July 2015) asked them to provide clearer evidence to justify this lower figure.
WODC's response to the Inspector (August 15) says that the Council accepts the Oxfordshire SHMA, but that:
It doesn’t allow for West Oxfordshire’s previous over-supply of housing
It doesn’t take account of the latest CLG projections
The figures should not be based on an ambitious economic growth strategy that may or may not come to pass (unlikely in our view!).
For example, the Oxfordshire SHMA figures rely on 2011 interim Government housing projections and set the base figure for West Oxfordshire as 514 houses per annum. However, updated figures for 2012 (published Feb 15) set the level for West Oxfordshire at 458 houses per annum, 56 houses a year less and in total over 1,000 less across the life-time of the Plan. WODC now says that the earlier figures should be ‘afforded limited weight’.
Helen Marshall, Director, CPRE Oxfordshire said: “We welcome West Oxfordshire District Council’s approach to this matter. Considering the concerns raised on the SHMA, it is surprising that all other Oxfordshire councils are still following it.
“We think the Inspector of the Cherwell District Local Plan was wrong to insist on adherence to the SHMA, without considering other evidence. The SHMA is only key evidence and not intended to be absolute, as the Planning Minister himself has made clear.”
It’s all been hidden behind Growth Board doors…
The Oxfordshire Growth Board is where all our local Council leaders get together to discuss these issues. But it’s not for the public!
These meetings have been hard to find out about, there is as yet no public participation strategy (although after pressure from CPRE, they’re working on it) and the last meeting took exactly 16 minutes! You might think that the important topics are being ‘stitched up’ beforehand….
The WODC response to the Inspector is therefore revealing. Para. 3.5 says: “There has been some discussion regarding the implications of the 2012 projections via the Oxfordshire Growth Board (the successor to the Oxfordshire SPIP). This has included a number of related reports taken to the Growth Board Executive Officer Group although no decision has been taken to collectively review the SHMA in light of the new projections.”
In other words, they have discussed the problems with the SHMA figures behind closed doors (not at the main meetings) and have decided not to talk about it in public and not to take any further action.
Time to review the SHMA
Whilst CPRE believe WODC's proposed housing figures are still too high, we are supportive of the Council's questioning of the methodologies used in the SHMA and the SEP economic growth strategy, and we are hopeful that the Inspector will be convinced by WODC's arguments.
CPRE also believes that the Oxfordshire local planning authorities (the City Council, the four District Councils and the County Council) should urgently undertake a review of the Oxfordshire SHMA, based on the updated Government figures and ignoring the entirely notional and completely misconceived economic growth strategy. Call us cynical but it might also help if, unlike the 2014 SHMA, it isn’t carried out by a property development company such as GL Hearn.
CPRE Oxfordshire, 27 August