South Oxfordshire District Councillors (SODC) were due vote on the withdrawal of the emerging Local Plan 2034 last week but less than 24 hours before the meeting a direction from the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government stopped them from doing this.
The South Oxfordshire District Local Plan (2011-2034) which was voted through for publication and consultation in December 2018 included 156 more new homes in Henley. After a six week public consultation, the plan was submitted to the government in March 2019 but following the local elections in May, the council’s new administration is keen to ensure the district has a plan that addresses local concerns.
The reasons given to withdraw the Local Plan in the motion to be voted on were:
- the uplift above the standard method from 627 homes to 775 homes a year is excessive, and the existence of the Growth Deal should not be used as a justification for this uplift
- the overall supply of homes in the Local Plan period is considered excessive as it is over 5,000 homes greater than the need identified for South Oxfordshire, even allowing provision for Oxford City’s unmet housing need.
- the Local Plan does not give sufficient weight to responding to the climate emergency that we face as recognised by the decision of Council of 11 April 2019
- concerns about site selection issues including:
- that the scale of Green Belt release is not justified
- flawed site selection having regard to the sustainability and deliverability of strategic allocations
- concerns about the impact of the housing mix delivery and density policy
In a letter from Tom Walker Director General, Decentralisation and Growth, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to the Leader of SODC he says, “If you and your colleagues do decide to withdraw the plan it will not be without consequences. It would immediately put at risk the significant investment that the Government has made available to South Oxfordshire and the wider County, including jeopardising the £218m recently allocated through the Housing Infrastrcutre Fund (Didcot Garden Town).”
Cllr Sue Cooper, Leader of South Oxfordshire District Council said, “This last-minute move from the government is an unacceptable intervention of national government into local democracy. The Secretary of State removed the democratic right of South Oxfordshire councillors and residents who turned out in great numbers to exercise those rights through listening, debating and voting in public on a matter of great importance to our district, and who have now been unfairly silenced.”
“This is all a great disappointment to district councillors in South Oxfordshire who remain committed to doing the right thing for the needs of residents and communities within our district. Throughout this process, we have taken a reasonable and responsible approach and will continue to do so.”
“We welcome the Secretary of State’s invitation for our officers to discuss our next steps with his officials. I have asked officers to continue to work constructively with the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and all our local partners to work towards ensuring positive outcomes for all our residents and communities, and the removal of the Secretary of State’s direction.”
Laura Coyle, LibDem candidate for the Henley constituency, has spoken out against Government interference with the South Oxfordshire local plan. Laura says “South Oxfordshire residents decided what they wanted in the local elections when they chose LibDems and Greens to represent them. The Government should not be interfering with local councils. If our councillors choose to withdraw the controversial Conservative plan because it damages our local communities, that is their decision to make.”