Where has local democracy gone in our district planning?
This article was first published in the Begbroke Link, Oct/Nov 2019.
After three years of campaigning against Cherwell District Council's Plan to swamp our villages and trash Oxford's northerly Green Belt with 4,400 new houses, some things can still surprise me.
Last week, the Secretary of State for Housing, Robert Jenrick, sent an extraordinary directive to South Oxfordshire District Council telling them to stop any further work on their Local Plan while he decided whether he should take it over and administer it directly from central government. This was in response to SODC's decision to withdraw their Plan for a much needed re-think. Furthermore any debate or discussion of the Plan by the Council has been forbidden for the time being.
Where now the acclaimed concept of "localism" hitherto championed by the government? I was chairing a meeting of all our local councillors earlier this week when we discussed this. I was reminded of the simple fact that all the local parts of our elected, representative bodies are against Cherwell's Plan. This includes all six of our local councillors on the District Council (which is pushing the Plan); our MP Layla Moran; and the majority of local councillors on each of the four parish councils that are affected: Begbroke, Gosford & Water Eaton, Kidlington, and Yarnton.
In this item I would like to remind everyone of two of the most objectionable of the very many complaints we have about Cherwell`s deeply flawed Local Review Plan.
First, the closing of Sandy Lane. At our meetings with local residents, this is perhaps the one that causes most outrage. But how many people actually realise that it would happen? If the Plan passes, it will! A major and reliable link to Kidlington from Begbroke and Yarnton, the character of which is in keeping with the nature of those two villages and the three communities as a whole, will be closed for good. We will either have to walk forty minutes on foot; or drive north around via Langford Lane where a new hotel and offices, with another 600 car parking spaces, are very shortly to add their traffic to this already busy junction, turning south and down the long, busy A4260 stretch into Kidlington. [Follow @SaveSandyLane on Twitter.]
A second issue causing local anger is that half the 2,000 houses planned for Yarnton – all of the `affordable` ones in fact – are to be reserved for the University, their teaching and support staff. The other half will be "market priced", in other words large and expensive houses that will appeal to London commuters using Oxford Parkway. Again, at our future meetings with local residents, the cry will go up, "So there's to be nothing that our kids can afford?"
No, there isn't. Furthermore there's nothing else in this Plan for local residents other than traffic chaos; loss of the Green Belt's "lungs" when they are most sorely needed; loss of village identity and history; and the noise and mud of ten years of construction ahead of us.
What next? Well, the Inspector of the Cherwell Plan will soon be publishing his suggested `major modifications` to it which are likely to result in even more houses for Begbroke. There will be a consultation on these, which we will be encouraging our readers to attend. [The proposed Main Modifications consultation was published on 8 Nov 2019 and runs until 20 Dec 2019.]
There will also be an Examination in Public of Oxford City`s Local Plan, starting in early December. This is important as the joint Inspectors will be looking closely at the "unmet housing need" that Oxford claims it cannot meet on its own. Our evidence-led belief is that it can, and that there is no need for Oxford, the University and Cherwell to invade our Green Belt for their housing. We will be asking for your support there, too.
Meanwhile, spare a thought and some encouragement for SODC and its doughty leader, Sue Cooper, as they battle to keep their democratic right to debate and decide the future of their own local Plan.
Begbroke & Yarnton Green Belt (BYG) Campaign.