David Bainbridge, director in the planning team at Savills Oxford, explains where the long-running story of Oxfordshire’s Local Plans fits within the wider direction of the entire planning system. 

“Our current planning system is broken.  It doesn’t deliver beautiful homes, and it importantly doesn’t deliver nearly enough homes. Local building plans were supposed to help councils and their residents deliver more homes in their area. Yet they take on average seven years to agree in the form of lengthy and absurdly complex documents and accompanying policies – understandable only to the lawyers who feast upon every word.”

These are the words[1] of Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

To make amends, the Government is looking to change the planning system through ‘Radical reform unlike anything we have seen since the Second World War’ in the words[2] of the Prime Minister.

Oxfordshire, so often in the news for its knowledge-based economy including work on a vaccine for Covid-19 and recent visit[3] from the Prime Minister, is leading the way in planning for development.

The county is just weeks away from every planning authority having adopted a Local Plan guiding new development for the next decade and more.

South Oxfordshire district has been under the planning microscope following intervention by Robert Jenrick but now the council has a green light to progress with changes to the Local Plan from planning inspector Jonathan Bore.  The council looks set to formally adopt the Local Plan in December 2020.  This will be the last piece in the Local Plan jigsaw and testament to the effectiveness of the Oxfordshire Growth Board.

This co-operation has helped Oxfordshire to secure over £500m of additional investment, such as through the City Deal, Housing and Growth Deal, Housing Infrastructure Fund and the Oxfordshire Rail Connectivity Study. The Growth Board has an important role in representing Oxfordshire on matters of regional interest including discussions on investment in the Thames Valley and as part of The Oxford to Cambridge Growth Arc.

Partnership working in Oxfordshire provides a solid base for discussions on devolution matters and potential reorganisation in local government when eventually the Government published this White Paper.

Stability and clarity in planning for development is fundamental for confidence in investment and Oxfordshire is leading the way.  A full set of Local Plans with reviews to come and continued co-operation on strategic planning through the emerging Oxfordshire Plan 2050, shows how Oxfordshire is leading the plan race.

[1] Robert Jenrick’s speech on planning for the future Speech given at the Creating Communities Conference 2020. September 21, 2020.

[2] Foreword from the Prime Minister in Planning for the Future, White Paper, August 2020.

[3] https://staff.web.ox.ac.uk/article/prime-minister-boris-johnson-visits-oxford-vaccine-teams

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