David Bainbridge, planning director at Savills, looks ahead in the wake of the demise of the Oxfordshire Plan 2050, a key document which would have steered how the county develops.

July 2021 seems a world away following the recent announcement that the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 will not be progressed. 

This was when Thames Tap published an article looking ahead to public consultation on the plan.

Fast forward to August 3, 2022 and leaders of the Oxfordshire authorities announced they have been unable to reach agreement on the approach to planning for future housing needs within the framework of the Oxfordshire Plan 2050.

The Oxfordshire Plan 2050 was intended to guide new development and the protection and enhancement of the natural environment in Oxfordshire to the year 2050.

The adoption of a joint statutory spatial plan covering all five authority areas in Oxfordshire by the year 2021 formed a key part of the 2018 Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal between the Oxfordshire authorities and central Government.  A deal intended to deliver a step increase in housing, including affordable housing, and infrastructure provision.

The benefits of a joint plan were seen to be many, including gathering of a shared evidence base to inform the refinement of options for the amount of growth and locations for growth.  This is especially relevant in the context of housing needs in Oxford city not being capable of delivery within the city council’s area.

There is a full suite of local plans currently in place in the county covering the period to 2031 to 2035 with reviews of these plans under way.  The intention would have been for these Local Plans to take a strategic steer from the higher-level plan, covering a longer period of time.

Thus far there has not been comment by Government on the decision to drop the strategic plan.  One could presume that behind-the-scenes discussions had taken place prior to publication of the announcement.

Dropping of the plan should not leave a void or lead to further delays in reviews of Local Plans because there is a well-established system for strategic planning in the county comprising a joint committee named The Future Oxfordshire Partnership.

Make no mistake though, because tough decisions lie ahead on planning for growth and protection of the natural environment. In the context of failure to reach agreement on housing targets locally and uncertainty over changes to the planning system at the national level, the leaders and officers of the local authorities will need to engage more, not less.

The local decision makers will need to grapple with issues such as climate change, economic development, transportation and air and water quality, in addition to the headline grabbing housing growth numbers.

We must all hope for more discussions and engagement on strategic planning matters, not less, following the demise of the Oxfordshire Plan 2050.

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