Oxford City Council’s cabinet agreed to an officer recommendation to seek approval from full council for consultation on a draft new Local Plan. John Gale from Savills central planning team in Oxford, considers this latest step.

Three years on from its Local Plan 2036 having been adopted, the Local Plan 2040, which will underpin decision-making on planning applications in Oxford, seeks to navigate some of the city’s biggest challenges.

The much-anticipated first draft follows several rounds of consultation, the most recent being this time last year when local residents and stakeholders were invited to consider its preferred policy options.   

The resulting draft proposes targets for the provision of additional housing and employment, alongside policies to help address climate change and loss of biodiversity.

Measures designed to support the city’s net zero target by 2040 are central to the draft plan and run throughout the document.

Perhaps the most significant step-change in the draft proposals is that housing growth targets will be assessed based on the availability of land for housing, rather than local need.

The draft seeks agreement to at least 9,612 new homes within the city by 2040 – just over half of the annual housing requirement. Therefore, once again, the city council will need to negotiate with neighbouring authorities to take some of its housing need.

This could prove interesting given that – following the abandonment of the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 –  there is no cross-boundary agreement between authorities as to how to deal with the projected unmet need.

Another facet of the draft plan is its proposal to allow housing on all employment sites for the first time in the city, subject to a policy criteria. Some might see this as a green light to redevelopment of all employment land for housing in the city, but there will still be policy hurdles.

Two key documents underpin the draft plan in relation to housing growth – an independent ‘housing and employment needs assessment’ (HENA) and a ‘housing and economic land availability assessment’ (HELAA). The former was jointly commissioned with Cherwell District Council to inform both the Oxford and Cherwell local plans. These documents may be pivotal in discussions with surrounding districts.

However, with no memorandum of understanding, or indeed common ground between authorities, the pathway to agreement on land to meet Oxford’s housing need will not be without challenge.

This pending consultation should be seen in the context of consultations by Cherwell District Council and West Oxfordshire District Council on an earlier draft of their Local Plans.  South Oxfordshire District Council and Vale of White Horse District Council are preparing a joint Local Plan for consultation early next year.

The draft plan is expected to go out to consultation in November. The aim is then to submit it for examination in March 2024 and could be adopted by June 2025.

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