By Giles Lewis, Chair, Cherwell Development Watch, an Alliance of five local associations protesting Cherwell`s Local Review Plan.
[Cherwell District Council meeting, 22 July 2019, Item 9 (Motion on Local Plan): Agenda & Webcast]
“We speak today in support of Cllr. Middleton`s motion. Last week, we wrote to you in some detail endorsing his criticism of the numbers behind Oxford`s so-called `unmet need`.
Meeting its allocation of that unmet need for Oxford has been the sole objective of Cherwell`s Review Plan. Cherwell rushed (I use the word advisedly) to sacrifice Green Belt-protected land to do so. The Inspector intends to rubber-stamp this drive with what we believe is scant regard to the evidence base.
But recent developments have revealed that it is not `unmet need` at all that Oxford requires our help with; it is its own - and the University`s - ambitions for future growth!
Now we see `GROWTH PLANS JUSTIFY NEW HOUSING, SAYS CITY COUNCIL` in the front page headline of last week`s Oxford Times.
Other realities are also now revealed for all to see. I will take just one site in the Review Plan to illustrate this, the biggest site - PR8 around Begbroke Science Park, with 2,000 houses planned.
On PR8, the University would build and reserve to itself all the affordable houses –1,000 of them; and retain these for exclusive rental by its own graduates and employees. The other 1,000 houses would be built to sell at `market prices` (high ones) in order to ensure that two colleges, the university, and its private sector financier can develop the whole site at a profit.
So Cherwell`s ordinary residents will not benefit from the 50% affordable housing allocation that they were originally promised; houses that might at least have provided affordable homes for some of their children to move into.
Nor will they provide affordable homes for key workers in Oxford`s hospitals and schools – which is how the Plan was sold to us. And there is no provision for any social housing.
Here is more than a hint of exclusivity and high finance.
Oxford`s Labour council apparently supports all this. So does conservative-led Cherwell; it seems to have been supporting it from way back, sometimes apparently covertly!
I quote from the foot of an email to the University from Cherwell back in June 2017: “Oxford University is being supported by Cherwell big time!” [Response to FOI request, 16 Oct 2017.]
And another from Cherwell in the same month: “It will be a battle to get the Plan through the Examination. We are up for it.”
And Cherwell to the University in April of the same year: “I urge that this [more private follow-up] is something we wish to hold more confidentially”.
Is all this really something the Labour opposition in Cherwell council can also support?
And should we look here for why the Sustainability Appraisal reads as if it has been written to support the allocations rather than the other way around; and why we had to drag a late HELAA out of Cherwell`s planning department?
One thing is certain: there is NOTHING in PR8 for the benefit of local residents. All they can expect is severance from their local services; local traffic chaos; loss of Green Belt amenity; destruction of their ancient separate identities; and ten years of disruption.
When we last met in full Council in February last year, Cllr. Wood urged you all to,`let the Inspector decide`. Well, your electorate does, of course, expect its elected councillors to decide, because – as we have recently seen - this is a big issue with the wider electorate.
Cllr. Middleton says this Plan cannot be adopted until you have all the facts before you. Quite so. With great respect, I would ask you to take some time to reflect on what lies behind the calculation of Oxford`s `unmet need` before hurrying to fulfil it at the cost of your constituents."