A new Local Plan for South Oxfordshire district is set to be adopted in the most truly exceptional set of circumstances, comments David Bainbridge, director in the planning team at Savills Oxford.
The makings of a plan that spans a period of more than two decades would rarely get the endorphins flowing but if one plan can, then this would be it.
With housing over the plan period 27 per cent above requirement and including nearly 12,000 dwellings in the Oxfordshire Green Belt – an area for which Government policy states alterations should only be made in exceptional circumstances capable of being fully evidenced and justified – there has been much to debate.
Add in nearly 50 hectares of employment land, new infrastructure including a crossing over the River Thames, a series of objectives to protect the natural environment and you have a plan that has it all.
Initial plan consultation took place in Summer 2014 and it has been a rollercoaster ride since. Following submission in March 2019 the cabinet of South Oxfordshire District Council looked set to withdraw the plan following a change in leadership only for Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to step-in and impose a legal holding direction preventing such action.
Fast-forward to now and, at long last, we are close to the last piece in the jigsaw being adopted for plan-making in Oxfordshire; supported by a report from Planning Inspector, Jonathan Bore, which recommends modifications to the plan enabling the council to adopt it.
The drawn-out process has been hindered by multiple factors including the district’s geographical breadth.
Cross-boundary co-operation, a change in council leadership, declaration of a climate change emergency, Government funding approaching £500 million and a deadline to adopt the plan by the end of 2020 well and truly put the pressure on amid a global pandemic.
The planning officers of South Oxfordshire District Council have worked tirelessly to achieve collaborative working relations with key stakeholders under intense scrutiny and against uncompromising deadlines.
Designed to drive a growth agenda, the vision and objectives of the plan have remained clear throughout; deliver new housing, employment and investment in infrastructure for the local area which is long overdue and especially welcomed during these uncertain times.
As is often the case, volume and location of housing was one of the most contentious aspects of the plan in what seemed an endless debate about too many or too few houses. Ultimately, the plan has remained evidence-led and seeks to address the pressing demand for housing in Oxfordshire.
In his report, the Planning Inspector states: “The current median property price to median earnings ratio in South Oxfordshire is 11.6, whereas in 1997 it was 5.3.”
Home ownership is simply out-of-reach for too many people – something the plan looks set to address.
As for the final stages, local councillors will meet in a series of sessions during the week commencing December 7.
We remain hopeful that they will back their own plan, adopt it as policy for the district – at which point a review will only be a few short years away – and lay the foundations for preparation of the next plan, passing the baton from plan-making to development.
It has and will continue to take masterplanning and significant community engagement for the benefits of the plan to be fully recognised.
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