significant changes to South Oxfordshire District Council’s Local Plan will be announced next Tuesday.
At the most extreme, it could mean at least 10,000 homes are ditched from the council’s planning programme into the mid-2030s.
A plan to build homes off Grenoble Road, south of Oxford, could also be affected, in what would be a significant blow to the city council.
As we reported last week the Ministry is against future growth deals of the type we have seen in Cambridgeshire, Oxfordshire and Manchester.
This will be a crushing disappointment to partnerships in many parts of the country who have been desperate to have them, though it clearly won’t be the end of infrastructure funding.
Why has the mood shifted. There is a lot going on:
- The deals have not led to increased housing targets. They simply underscored the figures in SHMAs which under the old NPPF were not centrally set. Under the new NPPF they are and so under the new NPPF a sceptical Treasury at the time of a comprehensive spending review could argue have they led to allocation of a single additional house. On the other hand the growth deal is the only reason South Oxfordshire for example after the last local election s hasnt pulled out already. Compare to example to Uttlesford where there is there is no such incentive. The real issue here is incentivising partnerships to bring forward development plans at aal.
- The post NPPF strategic planning system when aligned to the governance of functional city regions has become spectacularly complicated. Lets remember combined authorities and elected city mayors were created for political reasons to undermine existing political structures, which is what they have done with highly variable results, putting back strategic planning because of differing agendas with districts and counties in places like Cambrkidgeshire and Teeside, and bring it forward through sheer technocratic efficiency. In Yorkshire the desire for regional expression conflicted with the Treasuries desire to sort things out at a functional city region level.
- The incentive of growth deals has not been strong enough to overcome the local political difficulties and rivalries in areas where this has held back strategic planning, like Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire.
- The local elections have seen the rise of anti growth candidates which have seen ‘growth deals’ as the enemy. Future financial settlements need to be more broadly based, particularly in term of the need to enhance natural capital a vital component of a zero carbon economy.
- The growth deals have not answered the 64,000 dollar question, how to deal with the 40,000 units per year shortfall and implied overspill in terms of housing numbers from Greater London.
- None of the new joint strategic planning areas have consulted on potential choices of locations for Garden Communities. (North Essex proposed them but came legally unstuck in not presenting reasonable alternatives.) So a skeptic would ask what is being achieved to hit the national 300k a year target, growth deals or not?
A future communities secretary (which Gove is now lobbying for) will face a mass of political decisions about to incentivise and push forward how to achieve the 300k target. Perhaps the move to zero carbon by 2050 will provide a catalyst to a bold new approach. Formal strategic planning authorities are unlikely however a formalised system of stick and carrot to deliver strategic plans, including apportionment of London overpill, is more likely, linked to clear targets, fixed dates and hard penalties. The delivery of plans should be seen much like planning performance agreements for planning applications in the context of the Accelerating Planning Green Paper.
The plan, which identifies sites that can be developed for housing, was submitted for examination in January as part of a process which could see its adoption.
However, planning inspectors wrote to UDC, asking for clarity on Residents for Uttlesford’s (R4U) stance on the plan.
Before taking control of the district council in May, R4U raised significant concerns about the plan, arguing that it was “not justified or effective and is unsound in relation to the delivery of infrastructure,” according to the letter sent to UDC by the planning inspectors.
The local plan was submitted by the previous Conservative-led council.
The letter, written by inspectors Louise Crosby and Elaine Worthington, reads: “At the start of the first hearing session, we will ask the council to confirm whether it continues to think that it has submitted a plan which is sound and ready for examination and therefore, whether it still supports it.
Alternatively, if the council no longer supports key aspects of the plan it has submitted, the appropriate action would be to consider withdrawing that plan from examination.”
The council have been asked to confirm its position by June 27.
Dan Starr, vice chairman and co-founder of R4U, said: “The local plan inspectors have asked a highly relevant question. In fact we would be surprised if they hadn’t. Anyone who has been following the Uttlesford local plan through its tortuous and expensive history that will know that R4U does have concerns about the soundness of parts of it.
“Council officers have assured residents that the plan is sound, as did the previous Conservative administration that submitted it to the inspector. However, we would say that it has always been difficult to get a definitive view on certain things because records of meetings held by the previous administration are incomplete, and in some cases non-existent.
“With respect to the local plan and its upcoming examination, our councillors are still to decide. They are seeking advice from officers and legal experts on the plan and the best way protect Uttlesford from the developer-free-for-all that has been going on for a decade. Once they have done that they will write back to the planning inspectors.”
Old Oak and Park Royal Corporation (OPDC) bosses have admitted that the precarious position of High Speed 2 and challenges to the local plan by Cargiant could threaten development plans.
In a London Assembly Budget and Performance Committee meeting, OPDC chair Liz Peace said the development of the 140ha site in west London around the new HS2 station was “somewhat undermined” by the current political uncertainty around HS2.
HS2 is currently facing uncertainty with many Conservative party frontrunners threatening to scrap or review the project should they win.
Initially, Peace said a £250M Housing and Infrastructure Fund (HIF) grant, which was awarded to the project in March, would need to be underwritten by the GLA before it could be released. However, she said the mayor was “understandingly cautious” over the political uncertainty over which the OPDC had no control.
Interim OPDC chief executive David Lunts also warned that with the notice to proceed for HS2 having been put back until December any further delays resulting in a later opening date of the station would have a knock on effect on the Old Oak development.
“At the moment the notice to proceed [is a sticking point], until that’s triggered the main works can’t be let or activated and that’s been postposed to December,” he said. “That does start to raise concerns, certainly if there is an extension beyond that as to at some point questioning whether the station can open within the timeframe that we already know, because never mind the value engineering or cancellation, our plans are very contingent on the idea of a station opening in 2026.
“If that were to move, that would inevitably impact on our programme because we need the station to open to generate the accessibility and he value in the land.”
In the committee hearing, Peace also admitted that there were now additional implications from an ongoing row between the corporation and major land owner on the site, which could jeopardise the HIF funding.
Although the HIF money has been awarded, Peace said it came with a number of “challenging” conditions before it is released. One of these conditions she said, was to have an accepted local plan which is not yet the case for the Old Oak and Park Royal area.
In February it emerged that the area’s local plan was being challenged by Cargiant, on the grounds of viability and in May the planning officer branded the issue “potentially show-stopping” and set an additional hearing to investigate the matter.
Should the local plan not be accepted, the funding for the infrastructure needed to allow land to be released to developers, may not be made available by the government.
An additional hearing is due to take place in mid-July with a decision expected on the local plan by the end of the year.
As a resolution Peace said compulsory purchase could be an option, but admitted that the organisation did not have the money to buy the site which is why she said it wanted to “work around” it and it was a long term plan.
“All we can do is play a waiting game and see what we can achieve around car giant,” said Peace.
“I think we should take a robust view at the examination in public and say we are in it for the long haul. Our local plan is aspirational, the fact that we can’t immediately dot all the I’s and cross the T’s is not a reason to not accept it, but that will be up to the inspector, they may take different view so that is definitely a challenge.”
The OPDC has until 2024 to draw down on the fund, however Peace said she believed this was negotiable for such an important site.
Lunts added that it was important that the Cargiant land was redeveloped as having so much of the land around a new high-speed station dedicated to buying and selling cars, didn’t “seem like a sensible fit”.
Peace estimated that the cost of developing the infrastructure alone needed to release the land for sale was around £1bn.
Ockham Parish Council claims the allocation of 2,000 homes at the former Wisley Airfield is “a strategy of massive overprovision at the expense of the green belt”
Guildford’s new Local Plan is facing three legal challenges over its inclusion of green belt sites such as the former Wisley Airfield.
Ockham Parish Council, a long-standing opponent of the Wisley development, has already lodged an application with the High Court seeking to have the airfield excluded from the Local Plan. It has engaged leading planning barrister Richard Harwood QC to fight its case after raising £30,000 from residents to cover its legal expenses.
In court documents seen by SurreyLive, the parish council’s legal representatives claim planning inspector Jonathan Bore, who reviewed the Local Plan, failed to find exceptional circumstances for releasing land for 4,000 more houses than Guildford requires, including the 2,000 homes allocated for the Wisley site.
The documents claim the inspector’s reasons for allocating more houses than needed were “flawed, irrational and based on a misunderstanding of national policy”.
In his report, Mr Bore explained the surplus by saying: “Circumstances may change, and new strategic sites cannot be brought forward quickly to meet revised housing requirements; they have to be planned well in advance. Therefore, by making the allocations now, the council have aimed to future proof the plan.”
However, in his written submission to the High Court, Mr Harwood argues that exceeding the housing requirement does not amount to exceptional circumstances, especially as much of the flexibility this allows only insures against other “unnecessary” sites not coming forward.
“It is simply delivering a strategy of massive overprovision at the expense of the green belt,” court documents state. “There is no need for these to meet the housing requirements.”
Two other applications for judicial review of the Local Plan have been lodged at the High Court, one by Compton Parish Council and another by Guildford resident Julian Cranwell.
The Compton application relates mainly to the Blackwell Farm site to the west of Guildford and involves many of the same arguments as Ockham Parish Council’s bid, claiming Mr Bore did not identify “exceptional circumstances” for removing the land from the green belt.
Compton Parish Council’s barrister, Richard Kimblin QC, also argues that the inspector failed to consider whether the construction of an access road for Blackwell Farm across part of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was a “major development” and thus only justified in “exceptional circumstances”.
Mr Cranwell’s application is believed to have been lodged on behalf of the borough’s villages that would be affected by changes to the green belt.
Newly installed lead councillor for planning Jan Harwood (no relation) said the council would consider the basis of the challenges before deciding how to proceed.
A High Court judge will now decide whether Ockham Parish Council and the other applicants have an arguable case and, if they do, will grant permission for a full hearing at a later date.
From the West Northants Joint Planning and Infra Board 6th Jun
At the meeting in December the Board received a report outlining progress on a proposed Growth Deal for West Northamptonshire along similar line the deal that was agreed for Oxfordshire earlier in 2018. Negotiations on the Growth Deal have not progressed as originally anticipated and Government are no longer pursuing growth deals of the type agreed with Oxfordshire.
Suggestions ‘ Peace Bunny rabbits and Flowers Board?’
THE new Lib Dem leader of the Oxfordshire Growth Board has revealed that members have agreed to review its name and responsibilities.
Sue Cooper has warned the body, which channels government funding, that the word ‘growth’ scares people.
Mrs Cooper, who took the chairmanship after being elected leader of South Oxfordshire District Council in May, said members had agreed to look at how it works this summer ahead of possible changes in September.
Speaking at a meeting in Didcot on Tuesday she said: “‘Growth’ seems to scare a lot of people. We want to work in partnership rather than as a board.”
The board has been seen as the leading driver of improving infrastructure and increasing development in the county.
Its voting members are the county’s six council leaders.Other members include representatives from Oxford’s two universities.
Lib Dem Mrs Cooper replaced the former Conservative leader of South Oxfordshire District Council Jane Murphy.
Previously there was just one non-Conservative councillor on the growth board – Susan Brown, the Labour leader of Oxford City Council.Her election, along with that of Emily Smith, the new Lib Dem leader in Vale of White Horse, has tilted the board’s political balance.
Any considerable change to the way it has been working is likely to annoy Conservatives.
Ian Hudspeth, the Tory leader of the county council, said Oxfordshire had achieved far more than other parts of the country and that success, in part, was due to the growth board.
Mr Hudspeth (above) said: “Whatever we are, whether we are a board or a partnership, we have been very successful at getting money for infrastructure.
“I hope that message is not lost on central government because we are not the only growth board (in the country).”R
Its most obvious success was agreeing the Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal, which meant £215m of Government money will be spent to support 100,000 new homes. The vast majority of those have been included in councils’ housing programmes until the mid-2030s.
Hundreds of millions of pounds might also follow in future, including money for Didcot Garden Town.
Lib Dems and Greens are concerned about accepting the government money in exchange for building so many homes.
Land for the Many
We recommend that a Labour government replace the regressive and unpopular council tax with a progressive property tax based on contemporary property values.
Unlike council tax, this tax would be payable by owners, not tenants. This would result in significant administrative savings, lower levels of arrears and less court action.
Unlike council tax, the progressive property tax rate would be based on regularly updated property values
Housing Secretary James Brokenshire told The Daily Telegraph the proposals from Mr Corbyn were “deeply damaging”….
“This tax bombshell for families would mean family homes with gardens paying far more and higher taxes on pensioners by abolishing the single person discount.”
But apart from on development land this is not proposing a land tax, which is sometimes criticised as a garden tax. It is the same structure as the council tax with changes to exemptions, multipliers and as originally intended by Hesiltine regular property revaluations, which Pickles scrapped. A land tax by contrast take the value of the house on a garden off the valuation, only valuing the land based on what you would get permission for. You can criticise the banding, exemptions, multipliers and rates. But you cant criticoise it as a garden tax, indeed many would criticise it as not going far enough towards a land tax. Brokenshire’s criticisms are strange as it if defending a tax based on old out of date property values, which is indefensible. That valuation in and of itself does not set the level of tax, that is down to individual local authorities setting tax levels for each band. A more valid, the only valid, criticism would be on the proportion of the tax base to come from property. But you could just as seriously call it an ensuite loo tax as there prevalence is simply correlated with property prices as are gardens.
It would have been wiser for the report to concentrate on the structure of property taxation not its level, a matter solely under the power of a Chancellor, so we could have a serious debate about the need for regular valuation.
Anna Badcock told Watlington’s annual parish meeting that South Oxfordshire District Council’s Local Plan, which earmarks sites for 28,000 new homes for the period until 2034, was set to be “pulled”.
She said this would mean the town’s neighbourhood plan, which was approved in a referendum last summer, and others across the district which feed into the Local Plan may no longer be valid.
It would also mean that the £215 million Oxfordshire Growth Deal would be lost.
The Local Plan was approved by the previous Conservative administration but the party was ousted in elections earlier this month and the Liberal Democrats now control the council in a coalition with the Greens.
The new leader, Liberal Democrat Sue Cooper, has said she wants to reduce the number of houses and “improve” the plan, which is now with an independent examiner. Councillor Badcock, a Conservative, told the meeting that all members of the council had been called to a meeting on June 3 to discuss the plan with a debate expected on June 20.
She said: “The information we’re getting at the moment is that it is to be pulled. If the plan is pulled then, yes, we’re back at square one.
“I’ve been told that, potentially, if the Local Plan goes, all the neighbourhood plans go as well. We have no neighbourhood plans.”
She said that potentially the council would have to go back to not having a five-year supply of housing land instead of one of three years, which would provide an “open season” for developers.
Councillor Badcock said the money for infrastructure and roads that the Government had agreed to pay under the Growth Deal would be lost if the Local Plan was scrapped.
Almost £2.5 million of this has been allocated for the initial work on the proposed bypasses for both Watlington and Benson. Cllr Badcock said: “So probably bordering on £300 to £400 million coming into Oxfordshire to provide the road infrastructure to ease the burden on rural conurbations will go.
“The implications are quite extraordinary. We certainly won’t have a road around Watlington, that’s almost a given — I hope it isn’t.
“In a month’s time we have no Local Plan, we have no neighbourhood plan, we have no road, we have no chance of a road.”
Gill Bindoff, a member of the parish council’s neighbourhood plan advisory board, interrupted her, saying: “Anna, I don’t think you should give a political speech here.”
Cllr Badcock replied: “It really isn’t a political speech. I feel it is my duty to tell you what will happen because it will move quickly. I am looking to you as the residents of this area to give me your viewpoints.”
She said that if there were small adjustments to the plan the delay would be shorter but if the document was rewritten completely it could be three years. Mrs Bindoff said there was no threat to the neighbourhood plan because the district council had a core strategy and its existing local plan which it used to make decisions on planning applications.
But Councillor Badcock replied that planning officers were not confident that the existing plans would apply if an application went to appeal.
She said: “Maybe the ruling party come back and say, ‘we feel it’s risky to can this Local Plan so we have to make a few minor amendments’ or they may say ‘this doesn’t fit in with our ideology at all and we’re going to take that risk’.”
Parish councillor Tim Horton said the problem was Oxfordshire accepting 100,000 new homes by 2031 under the Growth Deal.
Homes England wants to build 3,000 homes at Chalgrove Airfield and the site has been included in the current local plan.
Former parish councillor Robert Barber said building there would “utterly destroy” Watlington and the surrounding villages.
Cllr Badcock said the alternative was building on the green belt around Oxford.
The new leader of Guildford Borough Council (GBC) has denied that the Local Plan for Guildford can be quickly revised with a “Local Plan revision”, as claimed by Sir Paul Beresford, the Conservative MP for Mole Valley, and that any revision would probably take over three years.
Mole Valley is the parliamentary constituency to the east of Guildford which includes five of the GBC wards.
Sir Paul wrote in a letter sent to a number of councillors in different parties on Monday (May 27) that he had, “sought and received, verbal assurances from the Department of Housing Communities and Local Government that GBC could quickly revise the Plan by adopting a change at a full council meeting”.
But today (May 30) Council Leader Caroline Reeves (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas) said: “An adopted Local Plan is an important framework for everyone across our borough, to help provide homes, vital supporting infrastructure and community facilities. Particularly when homelessness and other major issues need tackling.
“The council and its officers followed national planning policy and legislation during the development of the Local Plan.”
Referring to Sir Paul’s primary interest in the former Wisley Airfield site, Cllr Reeves continued: “This includes the number of homes needed, and focussing on one site in the Plan does not solve the problems of housing for the whole borough, people still need these homes and somewhere to live.
“It is also important to clarify that the council cannot proceed as the letter suggests. A motion of full council would not have the effect of reversing the adoption of the Local Plan, or of removing elements of the Plan. The Plan (as adopted) has full effect until it is either quashed, revoked, or revised.
“In principle, and law, it is possible to revise a recently adopted plan. However, to facilitate the type of changes suggested in the letter, the process would be a comprehensive one – it would be lengthy (probably over 3 years), and would involve (as the law requires), consultation, and examination (by the Secretary of State).”
Caroline Reeves was the only Lib Dem councillor to vote for adoption of the Plan when it was controversially adopted just seven days before the borough council elections on May 2. Other Lib Dems abstained or voted against.
Campaigners are fundraising for at least one judicial review of the adoption process but have only until June 6 to lodge any applications.
He added: “While this could be great news, it appears to run contrary to other advice about our available options, so we shouldn’t get too carried away.”Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch) leader of the second biggest group at GBC received Sir Paul’s claim warily. He said that his party would be seeking a meeting with him and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government “to try to add some substance to the verbal assurances” Sir Paul had been given.
Whether and how the council defends any judicial review may prove divisive. R4GV (Resident for Guildford and Villages spoke out powerfully against the Local Plan and have shown sympathy to those wanting a JR. Some Liberal Democrats may also have reservations about the council spending large amounts of public money defending the Local Plan adoption decision following their party’s unsuccessful attempt to defer the decision.
This evening, Sir Paul Beresford reiterated his claim about the possibility of a Local Plan revision when interviewed on BBC Radio Surrey.