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Disappointment at Vale Inspector's Findings, but success in the AONB

Thursday, 09 June 2016 10:58

CPRE campaign helps lead to removal of 1,400 homes proposed for the North Wessex Downs AONB and over 15 Green Belt sites, but overall numbers remain and 1,500 houses across 4 Green Belt sites given the OK.

Following the completion of Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the hearing sessions on the Vale Local Plan 2031: Part 1, the Inspector has now submitted his Interim Findings to the District Council. 

In summary, Inspector Malcolm Rivett considers the Vale Local Plan likely to be found sound, subject to serious modifications, which will be open for public consultation in due course.

The Inspector believes the overall housing figure of 20,560 in the Vale Local Plan to be sound and accepts over 1,500 houses across four sites allocated in the Oxford Green Belt (North West Abingdon – 200, North Abingdon – 800, South Kennington – 270, North West Radley – 240).

However, the Inspector has recommended that the 1,400 houses proposed in the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at Harwell should be deleted from the Plan and that all of the other ‘15 or so’ sites the Vale wished to remove from the Green Belt should stay.

The Inspector is now seeking confirmation from the Council that it is content to pursue adoption of Part 1 of the Plan modified along the lines of his recommendations above.

CPRE's initial thoughts on the Interim Findings are below.

Overall numbers

The overall housing figure is a 40% increase on the original draft Local Plan (13,000 up to 20,560) and requires building at virtually double the rate of anything achieved in the Vale in recent years. CPRE still believes this figure is unsustainable and unrealistic. We are disappointed that the Inspector believes the figure to be sound, but will need to see his full report before understanding his reasoning in the face of all the evidence provided.

Harwell/North Wessex Downs AONB

We are delighted with the Inspector’s recommendation that the 1,400 houses proposed in the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at Harwell should be deleted from the Plan. It is an absolute disgrace that the Vale sought to undermine its most valuable environmental asset in this way. Thank goodness for CPRE, the AONB Partnership and local campaigners.

Green Belt housing allocations

The vast majority of Oxfordshire residents wish to see the Green Belt protected, so they will share CPRE’s dismay at the Inspector’s acceptance of over 1,500 houses across four sites allocated in the Oxford Green Belt. (NW Abingdon – 200, N Abingdon – 800, South Kennington – 270, NW Radley – 240). This undermines the key concept of the permanence of the Green Belt and sets a really worrying precedent for further attacks. We do not accept that the need to provide housing around Abingdon and Oxford City is sufficient to justify building on the Green Belt, especially when sites such as the Northern Gateway and Oxpens areas of Oxford are being lined up for employment use rather than housing.

Other Green Belt sites

However, the Inspector has agreed that all of the other 15 or so sites the Vale wished to remove from the Green Belt should stay.

He has vindicated CPRE’s position that the Vale wasted a significant sum of taxpayers’ money conducting a totally worthless Green Belt Review. This assessed all the parcels of land against the purposes of the Green Belt and then picked out those scoring lowest for removal. As the Inspector points out, even fulfilling one of the Green Belt’s purposes – preventing encroachment of the countryside – mean that the land makes a contribution. The only starting point for considering removal of Green Belt designation is ‘exceptional circumstances’. This random list of sites felt more like sticking pins in blindfolded than any proper planning and the Inspector was quite right to reject it.

The Vale’s actual presentation of these sites was so amateur, it was almost laughable, as they presented any number of ‘definitive lists’ of the sites under consideration, all of which had errors or differed from each other. We note that even in the Inspector’s report he refers to ’15 or so sites’, no doubt because it is still not absolutely clear!

Monitoring Framework will be key

Looking to the future, Peter Collins, Chairman of CPRE Vale District said:

“The big issue remains the unrealistic growth figures. What is the fall-back if things go wrong? The Vale’s current Monitoring Framework isn’t worth the paper it is written on. When the jobs don't appear, it doesn't even provide the timely actions to prevent our valued green fields still being built on and our roads being brought to a standstill by the cars of those having to travel a distance to work.”

See below the Inspector's letter to the District Council (on 13 June) outlining his thoughts on the Monitoring Framework.

 

CPRE Oxfordshire, 9 June 2016

 

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