Daniel Lampard, senior director for Lichfields, casts an expert eye over two major issues in South Oxfordshire.

A series of recent events suggest that certainty, in respect of housing development, is currently absent in South Oxfordshire.

The Planning Inspector in the recent appeal at the Oxford Brookes Campus in Wheatley concluded that the current development plan at South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) “is now of some vintage.” 

Both he and the Secretary of State went on to conclude that despite SODC being able to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply, a number of policies, including those identifying the amount and spatial distribution of housing development were out of date and they did not have regard to them in determining the planning appeal. 

Those policies were specifically considered to be out of date “where they are used to restrict development outside settlement boundaries.”  Other planning policies were still found to be relevant to these and other development proposals.

In addition to finding the housing policies within the development plan to be out of date the Inspector and Secretary of State also found that the emerging SODC Local Plan “carries limited weight, given that it is yet to proceed to examination.”

This results in a policy vacuum as the emerging SODC Local Plan is not progressing with any speed.  It has faced a very convoluted process to date and the current leadership of SODC have made clear their doubts about the submitted version of the local plan which was prepared by the previous political regime. 

Following delays, and a series of increasingly interventionist measures by the Secretary of State, SODC has now been directed by him to progress the Local Plan through examination with adoption by December 2020. 

This remains the timeframe despite the COVID-19 delays which are leading to delays in the preparation of Local Plans nationwide.

Meanwhile the parties promoting development at Harrington (on land south of the M40) have submitted an environmental statement scoping request to SODC, which is a prcursor to the submission of a planning application. 

The Harrington proposals are for a major settlement of around 6,500 homes, nine hectares of employment land and other associated works.  They have been promoted at various times in recent years. 

The site is outside the Green Belt and is not an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) but SODC have not allocated the site within the emerging Local Plan – their 2018 assessment finding it locationally-isolated and requiring a large amount of investment to make development acceptable.

The provision of 6,500 homes in a single location would provide around a quarter of the housing requirement within the emerging SODC Local Plan. 

It is unusual for such a large scheme to be permitted through the planning application process where the site is not subject to an existing or emerging local plan allocation. 

Those promoting Harrington may be wishing to pursue a ‘twin track’ approach of raising the visibility of Harrington in advance of the Local Plan examination gearing up.

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