A letter to housing minister Robert Jenrick has questioned his motives for keeping in place orders preventing South Oxfordshire acting on its Local Plan.

Last year Mr Jenrick used rare powers to temporarily prevent the district council (SODC) from acting on its Local Plan after the LibDem-controlled local authority had looked set to ditch the previous one, drawn up under the Conservatives.

Earlier this month Mr Jenrick wrote to SODC suggesting he could even ask the county council to suggest where homes were built and setting a deadline of January 31 for SODC to produce evidence to influence his next move.

But in a response by SODC to the Department for Housing Communities and Local Government, chief executive Mark Stone said: “Recognising that the Council has not formally considered or decided to withdraw the emerging Local Plan 2034 I would like you to clarify please the express purpose that is intended to be served by the Secretary of State in keeping the temporary direction in place, and his reasons.

“It would also be helpful to explain the rationale for further intervention that the Secretary of State may be considering.”

“To reiterate, the emerging Local Plan 2034 is at the examination stage and it is clear from statements made by the Secretary of State that he wants the Plan to proceed (through the examination process) without the need for formal Government intervention.

“The present situation that the Secretary of State has brought about would therefore appear to be at odds with what he seeks to achieve.”

Mr Stone went on to say the council could not act because of the direction made by Mr Jenrick, and consequently asked if he wished to offer a different view to the factual or legal position the council took.

The letter is the latest twist in a drawn out saga which began after last May’s local elections. Homes England has significant interests at Chalgrove Airfield, one of the allocations proposed in the draft plan.

The intention to allow 3,000 homes there has been at the centre of the Local Plan row and last Autumn, Homes England acquired an additional 189 hectares to the north of that site for £5.5 million.

Tim Burden, director at planning consultant and Thames Tap partner Turley, said: “It just proves how politics can come into action in terms of plan making.

“I think it’s quite unclear what’s going to happen now as SODC have been robust in their responses. Given the Secretary of State is effectively trying to stop SODC withdrawing the Local Plan which has already been submitted for examination by the previous Conservative administration, could he potentially now direct the county council to proceed with exactly the same plan, rather than that process being led by SODC?”

He said it is unusual for the Secretary of State to intervene in this way. Councils elsewhere in the south east have faced threats of action in the past but intervention has never occurred, despite numerous threats and inaction.  

Mr Burden added: “The question is, does he have the courage of his convictions to carry the threat out as it could potentially backfire and lead to further delays. Indeed, there are many other councils throughout the country that could face similar sanctions – why is SODC being ‘targeted’?

”There is, of course, no guarantee that the Local Plan in its submitted form would even be found to be sound by the inspector if it proceeded through the examination process.”

* Image caption: Aldworth.

* Image credit: By Daniel Bennett, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48196258.

© Thames Valley Property No 194 (tvproperty.co.uk)