DevComms managing director Rob Allaway puts into perspective a decisive week in the drawn out saga of South Oxfordshire District Council’s Local Plan.  

The last week has seen a change in direction by Robert Jenrick, minster for housing, communities and local government.

Over the past few weeks, it has looked as though Oxfordshire County Council would be in the hotseat for taking on responsibility for South Oxfordshire District Council’s (SODC) Local Plan, a move that would be politically explosive locally and lead to applications for legal challenge.

However, last Tuesday (March 3), the secretary of state laid down his final position: SODC has been directed to progress the plan through examination and adoption by December 2020. The district council will also be kept on a tight leash as it has been told to report monthly to Government officials on progress. The ongoing holding direction on the plan has consequently been lifted.

Both SODC’s cabinet and full council met last week following receipt of the direction and agreed a motion which noted the direction and planned to meet its requirements.

The motion also sought to explore opportunities to address the council’s declared climate emergency and enhance planning policies for environmental standards in an attempt to keep the administration’s Local Plan policy agenda alive. However, their hands are now largely tied and any opportunities are likely to be limited.

A chastening outcome but SODC councillors were trying to put a brave face on it. Green Party councillor, Cllr Robin Bennet, cabinet member for economic development and regeneration said, perhaps somewhat optimistically, that the motion provided positive scope for the district to take control. LibDem leader Cllr Sue Cooper said that this was now the only pragmatic way forward.

Oxfordshire County Council leader Cllr Ian Hudspeth (Con, Woodstock) welcomed the decision from the minister and said that if members had not wasted eight months, the plan would be adopted by now.

So, after several months of uncertainty, Robert Jenrick has now laid out a clear way forward and SODC seem to be resigned to falling in line and delivering the plan – for now at least.

Image: Oxfordshire County Council. 

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