David Bainbridge, director in Savills’ planning team at Oxford, weighs up the risk to the position of Oxfordshire’s planning authorities who currently have to demonstrate a less onerous land supply than most.

Extra eyes have been on Oxfordshire’s recently-published housing land supply positions, in anticipation that the county’s special land supply privileges could soon be at the end of the road.

Oxfordshire’s five local planning authorities currently benefit from only having to demonstrate three years’ worth of housing land supply, rather than the five years’ worth that other authorities need.

These privileges were given to Oxfordshire in a Government ministerial statement of September 2018 on the basis that an Oxfordshire-wide plan, the Joint Statutory Spatial Plan, was to be adopted by March 31, 2021.

Since the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 is now delayed by at least a year, Government may soon revoke the special three-year rule.

Last year the Oxfordshire Growth Board requested Government accept these delays and were told that stretching their planning flexibilities ‘presented a serious challenge and was not likely to be supported’.

This would mean Oxford City Council, Vale of White Horse District Council, South Oxfordshire District Council, Cherwell District Council and West Oxfordshire District Council would all need five years’ worth of housing land supply, or risk planning applications with a presumption in favour of sustainable development as set out in paragraph 11d of the National Planning Policy Framework.

In practice, this can allow for certain sustainable developments not allocated within the council’s development plan.

With this context in mind the housing industry has been watching while each council has been posting its latest housing land supply position papers:

  • Cherwell District Council claims 4.4 years (published September 2020)
  • Vale of White Horse District Council claims 5 years (published August 2020)
  • Oxford City Council claims 5.3 years (published December 2020)
  • West Oxfordshire District Council claims 5.4 years (published January 2021)
  • South Oxfordshire District Council claims 9.15 years (published June 2020)

These figures can be changeable month on month since they rely on housing delivery, which could be impacted, for example, by slower supply chains, delays from Covid-19 lockdowns, or allocated strategic sites taking longer than projected to be built out.

As such, developers may be scrutinising Oxfordshire’s councils closely, and considering suitable sustainable sites, which are not necessarily in Local Plans, to come forward.

Any upcoming planning appeals may examine the robustness of the councils’ calculations. Indeed, a planning appeal within Vale of White Horse District Council has already challenged the validity of Oxfordshire’s three-year status.

The inspector’s decision of November 2020 upheld the three-year status with a reminder that: “The Secretary of State has not indicated a change in position in the WMS (written ministerial statement) at the present time.”

With the original adoption deadline of March 31, 2021 forthcoming, the industry is awaiting a Government update.

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