Statement from Cllr Hugo Brown on the Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Dealposted 13 Feb 2018, 13:34 by Souldern Village [ updated 13 Feb 2018, 13:38 ]
Dear Parish Clerk
I am writing to you, and to all the other Parish Clerks in Deddington Ward, to explain why I, as one of your (three) elected Members to Cherwell District Council, will be voting against the Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal (the Deal) when it comes to Full Council on 26th February. This puts me at odds with the Leadership of the Council and in defiance of the Whip. Please could you forward this to members of your Parish Council (who are, of course, free to circulate it as they see fit).
- the full text of the "Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal - Outline Agreement" (13 pages), and
- the Cherwell District Council paper headed "Growth Board recommends housing and growth deal" (4 pages)
Both are public documents and available on-line
By way of background, the Deal is essentially that which the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his Autumn Budget, last November, when he stated that he had come to an agreement with "Oxfordshire" to build 100,000 new houses in the County, in exchange for up to £215m of Government money
The £215m amounts to £150m for infrastructure spending "to unlock key housing sites", £60m for "affordable housing" and £5m for "resource funding to boost capacity to get a joint plan in place" (see para 42 of the Outline Agreement). The 100,000 new houses need to be delivered by 2031, some of which have already been built. In addition, "Oxfordshire" commits to the submission and adoption, subject to the inspection process, of a Joint Statutory Spatial Plan, covering all 5 District Councils, by 2021
At the time of the Chancellor's announcement, it was not clear to me whether there was to be a vote on this proposal. In fact, as I now understand it all 5 District Councils (including City of Oxford) have agreed to put it to the vote of all their Elected Members while Oxfordshire County Council is restricting the vote to Cabinet Members only. There is to be no Public Consultation.
I have made my views extremely clear to the Leadership of Cherwell and have indicated that I will be voting against the proposal, having considered the following points:
- 100,000 new houses is too many - I fully accept that some new housing is required, not least to prevent a youth-drain, but this can be addressed by small-scale sympathetic developments where the marginal increase in population can be easily assimilated by, and welcomed into, the host-community whilst preserving intact the fabric of that community. The new giant housing estates on the edge of, and around, villages, which will be the inevitable outcome of the Deal, with their substantial populations (and cars), will, by their sheer scale, destroy the historic communities they come to dominate. Ancient villages will become anachronistic and quaint centres of soul-less dormitory towns. Some of the 100,000 houses have now been completed, but as the Outline Agreement, itself, makes clear at para 25 this quantum is "recognised as significantly in excess of the Local Housing Need figures set out in the Government consultation paper 'Planning for the right homes in the right places (DCLG Sept 2017)'". The 100,000 figure was always regarded, by many, as being flawed (even before the Brexit vote and the impact this could have on population trends) and now the Government, itself, admits that it is over-blown. Why, therefore, is the Deal still pushing this figure?? ..... and why are the Oxfordshire Council Leaders so anxious to accommodate it by accepting the Growth Board's recommendation ...... ?? (NB: the 6 Oxfordshire Council Leaders are the only voting members of the Growth Board, thus they are recommending it to themselves)
- £150m of new infrastructure is too little - ........ surely, it cannot be simply to secure £150m of infrastructure funding?? - which figure is so tiny as to be meaningless in terms of what is needed to support the existing population, let alone a further 300,000 - 400,000 people who will inhabit the new housing. In any event, as para 42 of the Outline Agreement makes clear, the £150m is for infrastructure to "unlock key housing sites" so not really to ameliorate the current situation at all. The Oxfordshire Infrastructure Strategy 2017 identified £8.35bn of infrastructure investment needed for Oxfordshire by 2040, which is 55-times the derisory amount on offer as part of the Deal
- Will we lose control of the Planning Process?? - I have no confidence that the Local Plans will be able to withstand the pressures exerted by MHCLG (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) despite the protections seemingly offered by para 65 of the Outline Agreement, which in any case appear to evaporate upon completion of the JSSP in 2021. Para 66 offers little comfort as the Cherwell Local Plan can, in my view, be subverted by the Partial Review of Part 1 (dealing with Oxford City's Unmet Housing Need) and Part 2 - both of which are yet to be completed, examined and adopted. More worringly, Para 49 states that "ongoing work may focus on a number of areas, including .... the use of powers, such as Compulsory Purchase Orders"
I accept that there may be many people who support the Deal and I should be delighted to hear the views of anyone, whether in favour or against, so please do e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cllr Hugo Brown
Ward Member for Deddington
Cherwell District Council