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New settlements for Oxfordshire?

Wednesday, 29 August 2018 09:37

This month the Government has written to Oxfordshire’s local planning authorities giving them just seven weeks to suggest suitable locations for major new settlements. Our view? This is Alice’s Adventures in Planning Land....

“Now for the evidence” said the King. “No!” said the Queen “sentence first”
Alice’s Adventures in Planning Land.

For some time our Local Councils have been working together towards a Joint Statutory Spatial Plan (JSSP) for Oxfordshire, with CPRE’s support. This will effectively reinstate the old County Structure Plans which were swept away by Gordon Brown and submerged in his South East Regional Plan before that was in turn swept away by David Cameron in 2010, leaving only individual District Plans and a vague Duty to Co-operate between them.

The advantage of the old Structure Plans was that they could plan housing demand and other development over the County as a whole – a wider canvas than individual Local Authority Plans, but not so wide an area as to be unmanageable, as the South East Plan had been.

It is especially important that we have a sensitive and well-thought out Strategic Plan in place as Oxfordshire, along with the other Counties on the notional Oxford-Cambridge Growth Corridor, is targeted by the Government for a doubling of its population and housing stock by 2050. The intention is to drive this with a new Expressway and upgraded commuter rail links, our credulous Government having bought the National Infrastructure Commission’s totally flawed assumption that doubling the population will of itself double its economic output.

Whilst CPRE opposes the Growth Corridor in principle, as well as a new Expressway solely to facilitate development, we are supportive of County wide spatial planning. Should the Growth plans go ahead despite our opposition, accommodating the up to 300,000 houses this would entail whilst minimising damage to the countryside and environment will be a monumental task requiring careful and detailed planning over a number of years ahead.

The work on the Joint Spatial Plan was set to start in earnest this September, and to take three years, which is a challenging time scale given the task in hand.

Then, at the end of July, just six weeks before this work on the Joint Spatial Plan was set to begin, Kit Malthouse, the Government’s latest Housing Minister, turned the whole process on its head with a letter to all Councils involved  demanding to know where Councils considered the million new homes across the Corridor would be situated - in effect asking for the outcome of the Joint Spatial Plan before the work had even started. The Alice in Wonderland situation of verdict first, evidence afterwards. He even added that “the Government itself will soon begin detailed analysis to explore potential locations for new settlements”, that is taking the planning out of Local Councils hands entirely.

He has been rightly rebuked by the Leaders of both South Oxfordshire District Council (see SODC website) and the Vale (see Vale website) but if the Government intends – as it certainly appears to be doing – to impose Spatial Planning top down without consultation rather than allow Local Authorities to determine their own development through the Joint Spatial Plan, it will be yet another setback for local democracy and for the Protection of Rural England.

 

Michael Tyce

CPRE Oxfordshire, August 2018

 

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