Lib Dems May Put Oxfordshire at Risk of Bad Housing

This article originally appeared in the Herald Newspaper on 28th August 2019.

Earlier this year the Government agreed with Oxfordshire’s county, city and district councils two tranches of funding for local road and transport improvements to support the provision of houses in the county: The Growth Deal and the HIF Bid are each worth about £220 million.

The Oxfordshire Growth Board, a joint committee of the six councils and local partners, has already identified the projects on which it would focus that funding.

In South Oxfordshire, they include funding for upgrading roads around Didcot, including the new Science Bridge in Didcot and a river crossing at Culham.

These improvements in Didcot are a top priority: They will help alleviate existing traffic pressure around Didcot, give a big boost to the Science Vale, and support The Vale of the White Horse District Council’s (WHDC) Local Plan, which includes new homes around Didcot. The improvements provided by the HIF and Growth Deal are crucial to the WHDC Local Plan; without them, it is simply not deliverable.

This vital funding was effectively dependent on all district councils submitting Local Plans by 29 March 2019. South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) was the last one to do so. Its plan provides for just over 28,000 houses in the period 2011-2034, including the independently assessed need for housing here and about 4,000 to meet Oxford City’s unmet need.

A Lib Dem/ Green rainbow alliance has let SODC since May: Both parties oppose the scale of housebuilding in the Local Plan and disagree about strategic sites within it. They are considering various options including withdrawing the Local Plan and starting again. This would mean significant delays in its adoption and possibly the loss of the promised Government funding for the area. Furthermore, without a Local Plan in place, the district would struggle to resist speculative housing applications from developers, opening up the area to aggressive homebuilding.

I am aware that councillor Jane Murphy has written to Councillor Sue Cooper, Leader of SODC, to voice the concerns of the Conservative group on the council.

I support Cllr Murphy’s efforts to ensure that the Local Plan is adopted and this vital funding is protected, and would urge SODC to consider the ramifications on the wider area that their decision on this issue may cause.