Oxfordshire 2050 – A poor show, not a strategic plan

The first question you have to ask in Oxfordshire are are they capable in the first instance of taking decisions on growth (‘the word growth scares people‘), given that two of the districts and to some extent the county now have antigrowth majorities.

They are even planning on renaming the growth board

Alongside numerous requests to remove “Growth” from the title (on the basis it implies that growth
takes priority over other interests), the “Board” element of the title was also highlighted as inappropriate, given that it rarely takes decisions.

Just rename it the ‘Oxfordshire Sustainable Growth Board’ (as sustainability implies no slanted balance) no it looks likely to be The Future Oxfordshire Partnership which as not being focused on delivery and programme management will be useless as an intermediary in delivering funding and dealing with government. It has become lowest common denonomitor body.

They have recently had there special exemption in the Oxfordshire growth deal for a three year housing supply to be submitted by 2021. They are a year late. They did a reg 18. consultation last year and have just agreed another reg 18. round. This underlines my scepticism on reg 18. Local authorities can go round in loops progressing very little over years on the key questions as to what goes where. Indeed very little, if any, progress has been made on what goes where.

Taking at look at the consultation document the first question to ask is how much they are planning for. It has options for a standardard method based figure and a ‘jobs led’ transformational growth figure, which is remarkably similar to the NIC modelling for the Arc, and works out at around 153,000 dwellings 2020-2050. You cant see anything less than this being acceptable.

In terms of the additional land being need of course you have to subtract existing localplan allocations. However here they seem inflated.

My figures, taken directly from the local plans are below:

The local plan dwellings during the Oxfordshire 2050 period are 88,834 minus 39,800 = 49,034, and that is before you discount Chalgrove as it is now likely to be undeliverable. The 68,875 figure is dodgy, assuming for example that Vale delivers 1603 dwellings per year, 60% more than the rate assumed in the local plan.

So the Oxfordshire Plan will need to allocate 150,000-42,463 (completed to 2020)+2,105 (Chalgrove to 2035 no longer deliverable)=110,852. Sites delivering after 2035 = 3,090 so net new sites = 107,762‬ and assuming a 10% non delivery rate =118,538 net new housing units, or just a little over 9,000 houses over the period more than current local plans, so not a dramatic increase of the yearly rate of housing, nothing scary about it unless you are especially cowardly on the planning front (we have especially cowardly council leaders in Oxfordshire). This before even consideration of meeting the unmet needs of land and policy constrained areas around and within the Metropolitan Green Belt.

On spatial options for where it will go they haven’t advanced very far at all.

This is the third time they consulted on abstract development typologies, Feb 2019 7, July 2020 6, July 2021 5. So at this rate it will be July 2025 before they have a preferred option.

The 5 options area:

Option 1: Focus on opportunities at larger settlements & planned growth locations

Option 2: Focus on Oxford-led growth

Option 3: Focus on opportunities in sustainable transport corridors & at strategic transport hubs

Option 4: Focus on strengthening business locations

Option 5: Focus on supporting rural communities

Most of these are not exclusionary, i.e. a business location can be near Oxford or a major town and near a transport hub. The only narrowing down of options that has occurred is ruling out the building along the (ex) expressway options. Indeed the document says that the reg. 19 consultation will be a combination of the above. So have we got anywhere in terms of where development will go and what are the real options vis-à-vis strategic sites?

Not really given that dispersal is not a serious option and a fixed level of growth to support rural communities (typically around 20-30%% over 20 years) must form part of any plan.

As the document acknowledges the local plans continued on a path of expanding existing towns outside Oxford, as set in the previous structure plan, plus a decisive break with the Structure Plan (much to the chagrin of retired structure planners here who are very vocal and even more wrong) of releasing some key strategic sites on the edge of Oxford. It is clear that the old Structure plan strategy is at its end, can Bicester have another round of growth similar to the current one, no, some more sites maybe but ever more peripheral growth in locations further and further away from facilities and stations is not sustainable. To the Old structure planners, that strategy is no longer viable, deliverable or sustainable. Similarly the limits of being able to grow around the fringes of Oxford , eating out of the Green Belt, is limited. The most obvious sites are gone, and flood plains, nature sites etc. limit potential. The only practical areas then are large sites, mostly outside or on the outer edge of the Green Belt to the South, South West and South East of Oxford, which can be served by new or existing transport corridors. A series of new Garden Communities is inevitable, the real questions are how many and where and what new transport infrastructure is needed – for example extending the Cowley branch back to Princes Risborough and four tracking west coast mainline west of Grove.

Why cant then Oxfordshire have the kind of grown up converation that Cambridgeshire is planning on where those growth corridors might be and what public transport services could serve them?

When I criticised the document on twitter Catt Riddle replied don’t worry, its just reg. 18 and as a vision statement it good, and that under a locally led strategy that’s the best you can get. I disagree, there are many areas doing better, and a ‘motherhood statement’ on vision is not getting you any closer to tough spatial planning choices.

There are things I like about it. On nature recovery, zero carbon transport etc. it is good. On Zero carbon development it proposes a system where total carbon emissions (including from construction) are accounted for are carbon credits used to offset. This would simply result in all payments for schools and affordable housing squeezed to nothing, as we are already seeing in some areas with biodiversity offsetting. My gold rule is if is aspatial it is a matter for regulation and taxation, if spatial, planning. Construction carbon is largely aspatial.