The two district councils in South Oxfordshire (SODC) and the Vale of White Horse are looking into the possibility of developing a joint Local Plan for the area to significantly reduce costs and help the councils meet their ambitious targets for making the two districts carbon neutral.
Last December, following a government direction to progress the SODC Local Plan 2035 through to examination and adoption, councillors at South Oxfordshire District Council voted to adopt the plan after the Council’s Cabinet resolved to make a recommendation in October 2020 to withdraw the Local Plan from inspection and create a new Plan with climate emergency at its heart.
Local Plans are used to help determine planning applications and set out how and where new housing developments should take place, along with identifying the infrastructure needed to support them. They also set out policies on what kind of housing is appropriate and acceptable; what the local requirements for affordable housing are; and can even set requirements on the energy-efficiency levels of new developments.
These are all key themes and aspirations that are addressed in both councils’ recently adopted new Corporate Plans, which set out their visions for their districts. Both councils have also committed to do everything they can to address the climate emergency. According to reports being seen by the councils’ Scrutiny Committees next week, the significant consensus on these issues makes this a rare opportunity to create a joint Local Plan.
Once they have been discussed at Scrutiny, the reports will then be considered by both the South and Vale Cabinets. Any proposals or recommendations on creating a joint Local Plan would then need to be agreed at full Council meetings.
The reports set out the advantages of a joint plan. The Planning issues in the two districts are quite similar, like the need for carbon reduction, issues of affordable housing and the need for infrastructure, and so a joint plan would be able to address these issues in a co-ordinated way. There would also be significant cost-savings by producing one plan for both districts.
However, a joint plan would also provide new challenges that would need to be overcome, including the councils having separate democratic processes. It would also be important to find a way of retaining a local outlook for a plan working across a bigger area.
Cllr Anne-Marie Simpson, Cabinet Member for Planning at South Oxfordshire, said: “We all know how important Local Plans are to our communities, and I’m looking forward to a good democratic debate about the idea of creating a joint one with our colleagues in the Vale.”