Oxfordshire CC Votes to Take Over South Oxfordshire Local Plan Amidst Protests

Oxford Mail

DEMOCRACY, the environment and the housing crisis butted up against one another in a debate over who should control planning powers in South Oxfordshire.

At a meeting today, Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) agreed it would take control of South Oxfordshire District Council’s Local Plan for housing – but only if it was invited to by the government.

This was in preparation ahead of a decision by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick, who has said he is ‘minded’ to hand control of the plan to OCC.

County council leader Ian Hudspeth said the council had found itself in a situation it had not asked for, but added keeping the SODC Local Plan on the table was important for tackling the housing crisis in Oxfordshire, re-opening the Cowley Branch Line and building new roads around Didcot.

While most Labour and Conservative councillors voted in favour of taking over the plan, the Lib Dem group stood against.

Oxford Mail:

Mr Hudspeth said: “This is not a situation that I or Oxfordshire county councillors sought, but the only way forward for us to have progression is to accept the position: if the secretary of state asks us.”

There were fears that £218 million of government funding for new roads to ease traffic in Didcot, as well as the £215 million Oxfordshire Growth Deal for new homes and roads across the county, could be put at risk if the current SODC Local Plan did not go ahead.

Labour opposition leader Liz Brighouse said she would be supporting the motion as people living in her ward of Lye Valley were in desperate need of new homes, which could be addressed by building on the edge of Oxford at Grenoble Road.

Grenoble Road is within SODC’s boundaries.

The amendment, which passed, included the need to address housing need by building at Grenoble Road, as well as re-opening the Cowley branch line.

She said: “I will be supporting this… if the minister comes to us, we will protect this plan and deliver these houses.”

Conservative councillor Arash Fatemian disputed claims the county council was a lapdog for the government, and said it had stood against Conservative central government plans several times in the past, including on austerity measures.

Oxford Mail:

Many of the public speakers who objected to OCC taking over the plan said it needed to be rewritten to address the climate crisis, while still meeting housing needs.

First among the public speakers was Sue Cooper, leader of SODC.

She was shocked to discover she had only two-and-a-half minutes to speak in the meeting, having been told she had five before it started.

She urged OCC members to vote down the takeover.

Ms Cooper said: “I would ask you to reject this recommendation. Accepting your officers’ recommendation will have a serious impact on local democracy.

“Accepting your officers’ recommendation means you are condoning an abuse of power by the secretary of state.”

The Lib Dem leader added there were currently safeguards in place which meant SODC was not completely without a local plan.

Though she was cut off, Ms Cooper finished by asking OCC to respect the views of residents, who had voted in her Lib Dem-Green coalition council in May last year by an overwhelming majority.

The last public speaker was South Oxfordshire resident Claire Bird, who spoke to raise her concerns about climate change and asked the council to vote down the recommendation.

Ms Bird said: “However tangled up you feel in the detail, however much there is worry about money, party politics or power, could you stand back a few paces and look at the bigger picture?

“I have been brave speaking here today, you can be brave for all of us too.”

Ahead of the meeting, residents, campaign groups and councillors held a demonstration outside county hall in the blistering cold wind.

They held aloft a banner reading ‘Save Our Democracy’ and placards demanding protection for green belt land.

In October last year, the government’s housing secretary Robert Jenrick suspended South Oxfordshire District Council’s power to talk about its Local Plan.

Residents of South Oxfordshire elected the Lib Dems and Greens to scrap the Local Plan as they were worried about proposals for 28,500 new homes in the area by 2030.


Going Binary – the New Chief Planning Advisor’s Manic Proposals for the Planning White Paper

The path from Policy Exchange to Downing street advisor is a well trodden one.  We of course had the ideas from the tenure of Alex ”Half Baked’ Marsh – including Starter Homes (not one of which has been built).

Now we have Jack Airey appointed as number 10s Housing and Policy Advisor – an entirely self appointed expert in the field with again no professional background or qualifications in the field other than having scribbled a provocative pamphlet or two from that favorite SW1 Dumbtank – the Policy Exchange.  Further ‘wierdos and misfits’ will follow surely.

This would not be so worrying if the Planning White Paper was not due to be out by mid year.

Jack’s big idea, from the recent PE Pamphlet ‘Rethinking the Planning System for the 21st Century‘is basically to scrap the planning system and start again.  He may gain traction as the White Paper seemed headed soloely up the ally of greasing the wheels of prócedulrism rather than analysising outcomes and deep rotted causes of problems.

The Pamphlet states:

Land use is rationed depending on what planners think is ‘needed’ and thus on aspirations rather than reality. Local planning authorities allocate specific uses for all individual land plots in their area over 15 to 20 year periods based on projections of ‘need’. Yet rapid changes in the economy, society and technology, as well as the unpredictability of human and commercial activity, mean that the ‘needs’ of households and businesses cannot be accurately projected, certainly not over 15 or 20 years.In areas of high demand for developable land, the strong tendency has been
to excessively ration the supply of developable land. Permissioned land is therefore highly prized and highly priced – excessive rationing has artificially inflated the value of land use allocations, often to extreme levels.

And proposes:

Ending detailed land use allocations. The planning system should
not try to systematically control what specific activity can take place
on individual land plots based on fallacious projections of housing
and commercial ‘need’. Local planning authorities have proved
ineffective and inefficient at micro-managing land markets. In this
regard, the supply of new homes, offices and other types of land
use should no longer be capped by local planning authorities in
local plans or by site allocations.
• Introducing a binary zonal land use planning system. Land
should be zoned either as development land, where there is a
presumption in favour of new development, or non-development
land, where there is not a presumption and minor development
is only possible in more restricted circumstances. Land zoned as
development land will include existing urban areas and new urban
extensions made possible by infrastructure improvements. In this
new system:
• Zones should, in general, have no reference to what specific
land uses are allowed on individual private land plots. Market
conditions should instead determine how urban space is used
in the development zone. Land and buildings in the urban
area would then be able to change use without requiring the
permission of the state (as long as rules on separating certain
harmful uses are not broken, as detailed below).
• Zonal designations should be separate from any concept
or calculation of ‘need’. Instead, they should be dependent
on metrics that determine whether land has good access
potential, whether new development would cause
environmental disturbance; and the potential for an existing
built development to expand. Zones should be updated an
ongoing basis and would need to be periodically reviewed by
the Planning Inspectorate.

And final key point

The rules in local plans for new development should be controlled by local authorities.
They are necessarily political and should be voted on by local councillors. The Planning Inspectorate should be required to monitor whether local and community rules conform to national planning policy and intervene where necessary. This should be
the only stage in the planning system when local politicians have a say. They should have no say over deciding applications for new  developments – this should be a purely administrative exercise checking the proposal conforms to local rules

At the heart of this analysis is an essentially sound oberservation.  Plans ration land, they ration land too much because of the local politics of Nimbyism, we need a more rules based certain approach.

For many years this blog – and practice and planning thought in the UK, has got ever closer and step by step to implmenting – especially on large masterplanned schemes, the sessentials of zoning and subdivision systems, supported by a development code, that we see as best practice by many of our european neighbours that build far more per head.

However his proposals are not based on best practice anywhere – they seem based instead on what seems to be a wheese dept up one alcohol fuelled SW1 dumbtak pub lunch – the ‘binary system

However the analysis that planners proposing need is the problem is flawed.  Planners propose need local politicians fight for lower need is clearly the problem.

Simply allocating areas based on ‘suotability’and abolishing need is simply impractical and the phrase ‘rapid changes in the economy, society and technology, as well as the unpredictability of human and commercial activity, mean that the ‘needs’ of households and businesses cannot be accurately projected, certainly not over 15 or 20 years” is to repeat exactly the crucial planning mistake made by John Prescott which ended long term planning for housing and led to the reduction of housing numbers in startegic plans.  He makes the elementary ‘mistake of confusing forescasts and projections.  Housing numbers as the ONS stresses are forecast not projected.  When one looks back at housing numbers over 40 -60 years it shows that household formation dips during recessions and period of low economic growth and rises during boomtimes.  No surprise people need houses to form into.  As people take decades to grow up, work and die it takes seismic changes over decades to shift the trend of need.

Any plan of any form is always based on a place with a certain population.  People that need jobs, houses, schools etc.  You cannot plan for ‘suitability’in the abstract.  Suitability varies radically by scale, you cannot assume scale without people.  A site suitable for 20 houses on the edge of a Yorkshire Dale village may not be suitable for a Garden City of 50,000 people.  This issue gets especially highlighted when you are dealing with whole new communities which always and everywhere in the history of planning are planned because a certain quantum of people cannot be housed because of constraints somewhere else.

Airey’s manic system does not abolish forecasting it hides it.  It is still there under the illusionists cloth.  If if assumes suitability for a certain scale of development you can claculate from that the population, which always must come from some place.  This is just replacing explict modelling with non transperent and opaque modelling.  Furthermore you cannot assess suitability of new sites without infrastructure.  If you plan beyond need you risk leapfrog and scattered development not supported by infrastructure.

All of this of course is planning 101 in any urban planning course anywhere in the world.  I know a few in Kabul that it might be productive to send Airey on a secondment to to gain more of an insite as a  ‘wiredo and misfit’.