The calm before the perfect planning storm hits
Our villages and roads are quiet. The church bells are silenced. Many local people and businesses are struggling. The green fields and footpaths are a blessing enjoyed by many. We wish everyone good fortune to keep healthy and safe in this crisis. We thank our key workers – without them the situation would be hopeless.
We wish we could take a break from campaigning, but we have no choice. Cherwell Council are still aiming to bring the Local Plan to Full Council on 20th May as originally planned. The Inspector is working on his final report. The Council and Government have prepared mechanisms by which it will be able to meet and vote on the Plan remotely.
This is worrying, since it will be so much harder for members of the public to address Council if it goes ahead by video conference. Members of the public will probably be able to watch online, but we will not be able to make our physical presence felt. The cancellation of local elections has already hit our plans to lobby Councillors to join our local representatives in voting down the plan.
Arguably, the Council might pause a Plan that relies on massive, unprecedented economic growth to justify the loss of Green Belt. It might stop to consider if the Plan remains viable in the face of a most likely national and global recession. Yet it clearly has no intention of taking any time to measure the impact of the pandemic on Oxford’s hyper-inflated / growth driven housing need figures.
Let us be clear: The Council is now aiming to take more green belt at Yarnton and SE Kidlington than originally planned. This will place 4,400 houses around Kidlington and North Oxford. Large swathes of our Green Belt will be irreparably lost and left open to further development in future. It seems likely the Planning Inspector will rubber stamp this. We think are three ways in which this plan can be stopped at this stage:
- Councillors vote against the final plan. We know that Kidlington Councillors of all parties will oppose it but the other Cherwell Conservative Councillors are likely to vote it through because of the influence that Council leader Barry Wood seems to exercise on them. However, this shouldn’t stop us writing to Councillors in other areas of the District reminding them of the defeat in South Oxfordshire of what were dubbed ‘the concreting Conservatives’.
- Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State is persuaded that the plan is not sound and directs changes. This is implausible given that Jenrick, having previously said he would not interfere in local democracy, overrode it in South Oxfordshire when the new – non-Conservative – Council stood up to his growth plans. Jenrick has also written a highly political letter to the London Mayor criticising him for a low housebuilding rate, even though this is higher than anything achieved under the previous mayor Boris Johnson.
- Judicial Review if Cherwell adopt the plan. We will be taking legal advice on this as soon as we have confirmation that Cherwell are due to adopt and will seek to raise funds if we are advised there is a reasonable chance of success.
Against this background, you might want to write to your MP and local councillors encouraging them to continue to oppose the Local Plan. Please email us if you would like a list of other contacts you might lobby.
Giles Lewis, Chair of Cherwell Development Watch Alliance had a first person article in the Oxford Times on 2nd April. We shared it with all Cherwell District Councillors last week. We think you’ll also find it an interesting read: click on this link.
Video of the vital green lung (green belt) between Oxford and Kidlington
GreenWay have made an excellent short video about plans to build on the North Oxford Golf Club. This is a beautiful parkland setting that has provided wonderful recreational opportunities for tens of thousands of local residents of all ages over many years. It is a community resource, managed and maintained by those who use the provision. Many would argue, as the video footage shows, that this is one of the jewels in the crown that Cherwell District Council should serve to protect.
We believe that the Green Belt functions as a whole, and that no part is ‘more important’ than another. However, this Golf Course is surely the epitome of what Green Belt is all about – healthy exercise, conservation, open green spaces, carbon and pollution sinks. Cherwell Council admits that the revised plan, with the increased land take will cause significant harm to the purposes of Oxford Green Belt. The increased number of houses planned for the Golf course means that original proposals to retain tree cover have been significantly scaled back.
Furthermore, as the commentary says, the Council are not (or only paying lip service to) honouring the requirement to provide a replacement course before closing the existing facilities. It can be viewed on YouTube here
POETS: A Vision for Oxfordshire’s Future
Future plans for Oxfordshire should be founded on tackling the climate emergency, and focus on addressing health and other inequalities. These are some of the recommendations in a new report produced by POETS, a group of senior planning, environment and transport professionals and academics.
In a letter to all Oxfordshire MPs and county and district councillors the group acknowledges the current inevitable preoccupation with addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it also considers that the crisis provides an opportunity to consider the sort of society and environment we want in the future, drawing parallels with the actions of the wartime government in the 1940s. The POETS letter notes that during the second world war the government laid the foundations for much of what we now accept as essentials of our society: the NHS, secondary education for all, and many measures to protect the countryside.
Chris Cousins, one of the report’s authors, said “One lesson from the COVID- 19 pandemic is that early action in response to the scientific evidence provides the best basis for bringing the crisis under control. There are parallels here with the climate emergency. Now is the time to be doing such things as preparing for a massive programme to insulate our existing housing stock, something that would not only cut carbon dioxide emissions dramatically but also reduce household fuel bills and improve health.
“Similarly, one of the unlooked for benefits of the current crisis is the dramatic reduction in air pollution as traffic levels have fallen. It gives a glimpse of the future that could be achieved with sustained investment in public transport, walking and cycling. The last thing we should be doing when this crisis is over is embarking on major new road construction, reducing biodiversity, or planning new development which can only be served by car. We hope that our paper will prompt discussion and debate”.
Press release issued 7th April
Sandy Lane is still targeted for closure to motorised traffic. Continued through access even for cyclists and walkers is not guaranteed as it will be conditional on getting funding for a new rail bridge or underpass. Closing this road will inconvenience thousands of people every day.
From Linda Ward, Alan Lodwick and Kevin Bezant for Kidlington Development Watch.
With thanks to POETS, GreenWay and our colleagues on Cherwell Development Watch Alliance for permission to share their campaign material.