Increased density could reduce land needed in South Oxfordshire

Hulton Park

15th July 2016

South Oxfordshire District Council is currently consulting on the Preferred Options for its Local Plan 2032.  CPRE believes that, where appropriate, higher density development could reduce the greenfield land needed and encourage the right type of housing.  Have you say by 19 August.

South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) is currently consulting on its Preferred Options on where to allocate additional housing across the District. The consultation runs until 19th August. See the SODC website.

CPRE’s initial views are:

  • The overall housing numbers are fundamentally flawed and in reality unachievable, and will lead to an erosion of South Oxfordshire’s distinctive rural character. They should be reviewed, especially in the light of the potential implications of Brexit.
  • Housing density should be significantly increased to reduce land take and to help provide housing that meets real demand.
  • Protection of the Oxford Green Belt is vital, and this should also apply to the sites at Wheatley and Culham.
  • Chalgrove is potentially the least worst option of the possible sites identified for a new settlement, but much more information is required on the necessary infrastructure to support this, and other developments, before it is possible to arrive at any considered assessment.
  • Although a review of settlement categorisation may be appropriate, to ensure villages are in the right category, we see little value in introducing a ‘medium’ sized village category.

What is SODC proposing?

The document increases the planned housing from 11,500 in the current Core Strategy (to 2031) to 19,500, by 2032. The additional 8,000
are made up of a perceived need of a further 4,500 houses for South Oxfordshire and an additional 3,500 for an ‘unmet need’ for Oxford City.

The locations of these additional houses are proposed as:

1. A new settlement of 3,500+ at the Chalgrove airfield site.

2. The development of partly brownfield Green Belt sites at Culham and Wheatley.

3. 1,000 additional houses shared between Wallingford and Thame.

4. 2.500 additional houses in the larger villages (increasing their size by another 10%)

5. 785 additional houses in the small villages (increasing their size by another 5%).

It must be emphasised that these are in additional to the existing agreed and planned allocations to our villages and towns. In total, this implies a 36% increase in overall housing stock in the District in just 20 years.

The details of siting many of these additional houses are to be left to the Neighbourhood Plans, provided they are identified within 12 months.

There is also a proposal that the settlement hierarchy is altered to include a new category of ‘medium-sized village’ as well as the existing ‘smaller’ and ‘large’ categories.


Overall housing figures are flawed

CPRE continues to reject the overall housing figures underlying this plan. We believe the analysis is fundamentally flawed and practically untenable. It assumes unfeasibly high economic growth, with resulting high numbers of people coming into the County. The building of 750 new houses per year in the District (and 5,000 across the County) has never been achieved and is unlikely to be achieved. These targets become even less likely to be achieved with the depressed state of the housing and construction market following the Brexit vote. We therefore believe that South Oxfordshire District Council should work with its local authority partners to review the Oxfordshire Strategic Economic Plan and to commission a new assessment of the Oxfordshire housing market.


Housing Density

CPRE Oxfordshire believes that high density housing not only takes up less precious land, but it also provides less expensive houses. Lower price houses and starter homes for local people is where the real demand lies, not in yet more executive houses for commuters.

The Consultation is silent on whether and to what extent higher densities might be targeted, and is presumably carrying forward the “at least 25 per hectare” from the existing Core Strategy. This is remarkably low, given that Government targets are between 30-50 houses per hectare. Whilst accepting that precise sites will need to be evaluated on their own merit, CPRE Oxfordshire believes that a yardstick target of at least 70 houses per hectare would be more appropriate.

Click here for further information on CPRE Oxfordshire’s density guidelines


Protection of The Oxford Green Belt is welcome

CPRE welcomes the overall aim to protect our natural and historic environment and we welcome the protection given to the Oxford Green Belt and the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. One of the key functions of the Green Belt is its permanence. The Oxford Green Belt performs a vital role in constraining the expansion of Oxford City, allowing the surrounding countryside and communities to flourish and protecting the historic centre from being overwhelmed. We support SODC’s recognition that the need to supply additional housing is not considered an exceptional circumstance to justify building on the Green Belt, although regret that in their proposals for Culham and Wheatley they propose doing just that.

We appreciate that for some communities outside the Green Belt, which are now facing the imposition of significant housing growth, it may seem questionable why settlements within the Green Belt are protected. However, the bigger picture is that if Oxford is allowed to grow in an unrestrained manner, the whole County will suffer from the impact on services, infrastructure and urban sprawl. Major housing development in the Green Belt is not sustainable. However, this should not be used to justify unsustainable development elsewhere. If no sustainable locations can be identified, CPRE believes the overall housing numbers should be reduced accordingly.  This would be in line with stated Government policy.


Oxford Brookes site at Holton and Culham Science Centre & No 1 Site

It is proposed to take these sites out of the Green Belt to develop them for housing and employment use. Planning Rules already allow “previously developed” sites in the Green Belt to be redeveloped, retaining their Green Belt status, as long as the new development is no more intrusive than the old. CPRE believes these could be redeveloped in that way, without taking them out of the Green Belt, albeit not so intensively, and retaining their rural character.

Taking them out of the Green Belt, when it is not essential to do so, is undesirable in itself, and risks setting a precedent for other such sites in the Green Belt.


A new settlement / Chalgrove Airfield

As a semi-brownfield site that lies outside of the Green Belt and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, CPRE regards the choice of a new settlement at Chalgrove as the least worst of the options presented. However, there will be considerable challenges to make this a sustainable community. The current facilities and, in particular transport links, to this site are poor. The development would require substantial changes to the road network to prevent further traffic chaos in Watlington (already an Air Quality Management Area), Stadhampton, Little Milton and other villages en route to the M40 and Oxford. It would also require a massive enhancement of public transport.

The Preferred Options document has very little discussion of the infrastructure needed to support either the existing housing allocation or this substantial increase. We all know that services and facilities across the District are stretched and these proposals would increase pressures on schools and health centres and would increase traffic congestion and resulting noise and air pollution. CPRE believes we need comprehensive, integrated and realistic planning of the development of our district. Unfortunately the Preferred Options does not provide this, even in outline.


Settlement Hierarchy

CPRE can see little value in introducing a new ‘medium’ category for villages since no ‘smaller’ village is likely to want to ‘upgrade’ in size and face the increased housing allocation that would inevitably follow. Similarly, SODC is unlikely to accept any requests by ‘larger’ villages to downgrade to ‘medium’ and reduce their housing numbers accordingly. This would therefore introduce an unnecessary bureaucratic step that would serve no useful purpose. We do though welcome a review of the categorisation of all settlements to ensure they are properly assessed for development potential – or lack of it.


In conclusion

A robust and realistic Local Plan for the District is vital to provide for the development of our District while protecting the very environment which makes South Oxfordshire a good place to live and providing us with the facilities we need. Only with an agreed and realistic plan can we protect ourselves from the speculative and damaging development we have already seen across Oxfordshire.


CPRE’s full response to the consultation will be published on our website in due course. Meanwhile, if you have any comments on the issues raised or have other concerns which you would like to share with us, please do get in touch.  T: 01491 612079  E:



CPRE Oxfordshire

15 July 2016