Pre-application advice to be made public

A new planning policy comes into effect in January 2017. 

Vale of White Horse offers pre-application planning advice to individuals and companies on a commercial basis. This is one of the ways that enable us to keep council tax low in South Oxfordshire.

Prior to a full planning application being made, we respect the commercial confidentiality of the advice given. However, in the interest of being transparent we are putting a new process in place from January 2017 whereby our advice on new cases will be available publicly on our website once the full application is submitted.

New Local Plan and pending appeals

Some of you have asked me whether pending appeals will be decided according to the old policies in place when the application was originally determined, or if the new Local Plan policy will take precedence once it’s adopted. (Adoption expected 14 Dec 16.)

I’ve had conflicting answers to that question, and have this mor img sorted it out by speaking to a senior planner. 

Once a new policy is adopted, the local authority must notify the inspectorate. The new policy is definitely a material consideration, but how much weight it is given in an appeal is down to the inspector. So that would be the case here from 14 Dec 16. 

So for any appeals that are pending, it could go either way. But we would generally expect the inspector to give lots of weight to the new policy. 

My Scrutiny objectives

In June 2016, I took the chair of the Vale Scrutiny Committee, and co-chair of the Joint South and Vale Scrutiny Committee.

I have three main goals:

  1. Increase engagement with committee members, council members, officers, Cabinet and the public.
  2. Improve the reputation of Scrutiny for adding value to our policies and strategies.
  3. Improve the working relationship with Cabinet, to bring draft policy and strategy docs to Scrutiny earlier in the process, not at the very end, one day before adoption.

I’ll report back on how I’m doing. Right now, in December 2016, I feel optimistic.




Recycling change causes confusion

Have you had an Oops! notice left hanging on your green recycling bin?

A recent policy change was brought about by high rates of contamination of residential recycling. When someone puts stuff into the green bin that shouldn’t be there, it contaminates a whole lorry load of recycling and costs Vale a lot of money. So now the policy is that if any recycling is in plastic bags, those bags must be clear, so drivers can see that it’s not been contaminated. Notices went out on bin hangers, in press releases, via social media. Yes, black bin liners are still recyclable, but it’s no longer allowed to put recycling IN the black bin liners. Items for recycling must be loose in the bin, or in clear sacks. Otherwise your recycling won’t be collected.

If you have more recycling that can fit in your green bin, then you can leave extra next to the bin, but again, this must be in a clear sack.

If anyone had problems getting their recycling collected, they can check the rules at If the instructions have been followed then residents can contact Biffa directly at or on 03000 610 610.

Bad weather waste & recycling collections

Sometimes bad weather affects waste and recycling collections.

If bins aren’t emptied on the scheduled day, leave them out for two more days and Biffa will do their best, weather permitting, to come back.

If the bins haven’t been emptied after 3 days, take them back in and put them out for the next scheduled collection date.

You can always leave extra waste out beside the bin in an open box or a clear sack.

If your bins are missed, you can email or ring the Biffa call centre on 03000 610 610.

Pickup during the holidays will work to the published calendar:

West Way Redevelopment – about to begin

Planning permission was granted in Sept 2016, and the time for judicial review has passed. Preparations are underway to begin Phase 1 of the redevelopment, which is at the eastern end of the site.

Mace resumed their community liaison group meetings last week, where they keep key players informed so that we can inform everyone else.

Mace brought along their likely construction partners, SDC Construction (see their website here: We heard from their MD and site manager about the way they plan to work. They’ll have a full time on site community liaison manager, who we can contact about any problems. One interesting thing is that they are a company owned by their employees, sort of like John Lewis, That means they are not answerable to shareholders and so are not after the cheapest solution. They are ‘considerate constructors’ to whom their good reputation is the most important thing. They have a clever plan to mitigate some of the construction traffic problems: they’ll hire space in the Seacourt Park & Ride for workers to park, and will run a shuttle to move workers between parking and the site. Good idea, I thought.

Occupants affected by Phase 1 (toward the eastern end of the site) will be moving to their temporary facilities beginning in January. Seacourt Hall and the Library will be re-homed into the precinct, and Andrews Dry Cleaning is moving into the old motor parts shop in Elm’s Parade.

Demolition for Phase 1 is scheduled to begin toward the end of Q1, and will take 3-4 months. Details will be available on the SDC and Mace websites, and once those are up and running the link will be widely available. There will be a webcam broadcasting 24/7. Might be a fun project for someone wants to regularly capture them and make a time lapse film of it? Who’s up for that?

Local Plan 2031 – adoption immiment

Local Plan 2031 (Part 1):

The inspector has found that Vale’s Local Plan 2031 Part 1 is sound. On 2 Dec, Cabinet approved it to go to full council on 14 Dec 2016 for formal adoption.

Working together with community activists and some parish councils, we managed to get 22 Green Belt sites saved, but four sites are to be removed from the Green Belt and are designated strategic housing sites.

The main good news is that once this Local Plan Part 1 is adopted, we are no longer subject to the speculative development that’s been a bane to our areas since the change in administration in 2011; our development will be ‘plan led’.

Work will soon begin on Oxford Brookes University’s master plan, and we can expect our first strategic site applications to be coming through (we expect that north of Abingdon site will be soon).

Local Plan 2031 (Part 2)

A call for sites brought in (dozens of, scores of, maybe) offers from landowners who want to see their sites used for housing development over the next 15 years. The list is still confidential; I’ve tried to get sight of the potential sites in our area, but have had no joy.

The public consultation on this is expected in Feb 2017. Items of interest in Part 2 are where to meet Oxford’s unmet housing need (remember we’ve agreed to take 2200 more houses), non-strategic sites for fewer than 200 houses, and policies to replace those that have been ‘saved’ from the old Local Plan.

My position on Brexit

I posted a Facebook comment somewhere, which, in retrospect, succinctly sums up my position in the Brexit debate. So I’m going to stick it here so I can find it again when asked my opinion. 😉

AFAIC, the referendum was advisory and not binding; that was explicit. The government should use the popular opinion as expressed in that referendum in making their decisions. 

But parliament is still sovereign; we in the UK are not a direct democracy. The decision about whether to leave the EU is parliament’s, and also the terms under which we should or should not. 

That’s my opinion. I think that agrees with Lib Dem position.

Personally, I still want us to remain in the EU.

Botley leisure provision

(Updated 8 Dec with a revised proposal)

For the 2017/18 budget, the Lib Dems have proposed a growth item to provide for leisure facilities for children and teens in Botley. Since I was first elected in 2011, I’ve been trying to improve the provision of leisure facilities in Botley and the north east area of the Vale. It’s been a saga. Various consultations have overlooked this area, and recent years’ investments in leisure facilities have gone to other areas of Vale. Attempts to jump start this effort by motions to full council have also failed.

This proposal is to fund the collaborative programme between Vale and North Hinksey Parish Council and Louie Memorial Pavilion Trust and the Scouts (and any other interested party) to replace the Louie Memorial Pavilion and Scouts’ hut with a new shared facility, and to provide a replacement skate park and other recreational facilities for older children and teens.

Here’s the proposal we’ve submitted for this budget:

Botley Leisure Provision  – Executive Summary

Version 2: 8 Dec 2016. Modified to create one rev bid for 2017/18 and two capital bids for 2 subsequent years.

Purpose of Report

  1. Provide background information about leisure provision in Botley
  2. Propose solutions to remedy current lack of provision by a revenue bid in 2017/18 for leisure officer resource to lead the planning of the project, and two capital bids in each of 2018/19 and 2019/20 for development of the leisure facilities described in this proposal.


The Vale of White Horse currently provides no  leisure or sport facilities in Botley. In the past, our reliance on provision by Brookes University and Matthew Arnold School may have gone some way to meeting need, but those facilities are no longer freely available for public use.

In Sept 2009 the Botley skate bowl, built in 1991, was destroyed by thieves ramming a stolen car into it and setting it on fire. In Feb 2010 the North Hinksey Parish Council decided it was too expensive to repair or replace and so permanently closed the skate bowl.

In recent years the Louie Memorial Pavilion has undergone transformation from a neglected empty building to a valued community resource used by youth groups, football teams and community groups, and which has money in the bank. But the LM Pavilion requires ongoing expensive maintenance and has reached the end of its useful life. Parish council support has grown to the point where it seems a good time now for a collaborative and positive contribution to local leisure and sport facilities.

Strategy Consultations

  1. In 2007 or thereabouts (we can’t find the report, but only references to it) an assessment report by Sport England declared that Botley was under provided with sport facilities, especially for older children and teens. ‘Deprived’ was the word they used. (Note please this was during the time when the skate bowl was still there.)
  2. In 2009, Vale’s Open Space, Sport and Recreation Provision Strategy found a gap in sport provision in the northeast area of Vale, and noted particularly that teen facilities were poor. (Note please this was during the time when the skate bowl was still there.)
  3. In Dec 2012, Vale’s Leisure & Sports facility public consultation defined 4 main settlement areas in the Vale: Abingdon, Botley, Faringdon, Wantage & Grove. The consultation questionnaire asked questions about every area except for Botley; there were no questions about provision in Botley.
  4. In May 2013, Cllr Debby Hallett’s letter to Cllr Elaine Ware outlined concerns of residents in Botley about the Leisure & Sport Facilities Strategy. The lack of any recent needs assessment in Botley meant there was no negotiating power for s106 obligations from the three main housing developments (Timbmet, Lime Rd and Tilbury Lane), and hence, no money from those developers for leisure or sport needs. The consultation shortcoming meant no new provision in the area for the next generation, and no leverage for negotiating s106 and CIL money for local infrastructure. 

Budgets: Money promised for sport & leisure facility provision

  1. May 2014: approx £2,000,000 announced as part of the new leisure contract for White Horse Leisure Centre in Abingdon for gym expansion, new equipment, energy improvements.
  2. May 2014: approx £1,000,000 announced as part of the new leisure contract for Faringdon for new pitches, squash court, gym equipment and energy improvements.
  3. Feb 2015: Capital growth item £500,000 for sport and leisure improvements in Abbey Meadow in Abingdon.
  4. Feb 2015: Capital growth item £12,000,000 over three years, for a new Wantage Grove Leisure Centre.
  5. April 2016: Vale announced £415,623 to refurbish the swimming pool at White Horse Leisure and Tennis Centre in Abingdon.
  6. 11 Jul 2016: Abingdon outdoor pool to be replaced, the cost to be over and above the original £500,000 (in item 3, above). No precise costs announced.
  7. Oct 2016. Local Vale council members from Botley propose that council include growth bids(s) for leisure facilities for Botley.


  1. One of Vale’s responsibilities is to provide sport and leisure facilities throughout the whole district, including Botley and the north east area.
  2. Botley and the north east area are underprovided with leisure and sport facilities.
  3. Botley and the north east area were left out of the leisure and sports facilities studies, which underpin the emerging Vale Local Plan.
  4. There is nothing about sport and leisure provision in Botley and the north east in the newly adopted Vale Corporate Plan.
  5. Without assessment of need, there is no evidence of need to support CIL or s106 negotiations.
  6. Because of these omissions, there is a likelihood of nothing for Botley and the north east area in the next generation unless extraordinary steps are taken.


The time is right for Vale to work with local people and parish councils to create a work plan and sources of funding to provide facilities, especially for older children and young people, such as a skate park, adventure playground, sport pavilion with community meeting space for clubs, scouts, and other leisure and sport uses. An appropriate site is available at Louie Memorial Fields; the Playing Fields Association rep says it’s a big enough site. The scouts’ lease on their scout hut just next to the pavilion is up this year, so they are a partner in this. Some funding is available from North Hinksey Parish Council and we can explore other funding sources.

  1. 2017/18 Revenue growth bid £20,000 for officer to help local bodies with project and facilities plans, consultations, tendering, and all the things that go with a leisure facilities development project. Leisure officers know how to do this; local people usually do not. Cost is based on one officer (£35,000pa) for two days a week, plus some money for events and travel).
  2. 2018/19 medium term financial plan. Capital bid for skate park or wheeled sports facility, some sort of adventure playground, walking/running track, other sport or fitness equipment, and landscaping to bring it all together: £150,000
  3. 2019/20 medium term financial plan: Capital bid to replace pavilion and scout hut, with new facility to include showers, changing rooms, pubic toilets, secure storage, flexible meeting and activity space, kitchen: £600,000

Cllr Debby Hallett

Children’s centres grants

For the 2017/18 budget, the Lib Dems have proposed a growth item to provide some help to the Vale’s Children’s Centres, which are at risk of losing most or all of their county council funding. Some centres are actively working toward self-management, where they will ensure their own long-term viability, and Lib Dems thought of a way Vale could help.

Here’s the proposal we’ve submitted for this budget:

Children’s Centre Grant Proposal


To create a grant fund available to community groups whose aim is to keep their Children’s Centres viable so they can continue to provide open access children and family services formerly funded by Oxfordshire County Council.


Children’s Centres provide a variety of advice and support for children under 5, their parents and carers. Chirldren’s Center services are available to families from pregnancy right through to when children go into reception class at primary school.

There are a core set of services they must provide:

  • Child and family health services, ranging from child health clinics to breastfeeding support
  • Some  centres offer high quality childcare and early learning – those that don’t can help advise on local childcare options
  • Advice on parenting, local childcare options and access to specialist services for families like speech therapy, healthy eating advice or help with managing money
  • Help for you to find work, training or volunteering opportunities, using links to local Jobcentre Plus offices and training providers

Some centres may also offer a dentist, dietician or physiotherapist, or help people visit the stop smoking clinic, get faster access to expert advice, support and short-term breaks if a  child has learning difficulties or disabilities, talk to Citizens’ Advice, take parenting classes and ‘improve your English if it is not your first language’.

Most of these centres were funded through government initiatives such as Sure Start; over the past few years these grants have been discontinued.

From April 2017, Oxfordshire County Council is reorganising these services by replacing 44 Children’s Centres and 7 Early Intervention Hubs with 8 intervention hubs in the most socially disadvantaged areas of the county.  The County Council has made available a £1.2million Transition Fund as one-off start-up help for Community Groups interested in taking on these services. The money is subject to a bidding process and groups are expected to prepare a business plan, demonstrating financial sustainability within a short period.

There are 9 Children’s Centres in the Vale district:

  • Elms Road, North Hinksey
  • North Abingdon
  • Northeast Abingdon
  • South Abingdon
  • Faringdon
  • Grove & the Hanneys
  • Southmoor
  • Wantage
  • Wootton

Eight of the nine centres have some form of community group that recognises the well-documented benefits of these early help resources, knows how highly valued they are by the families who use them, and is working to retain these services for future generations in their area. (Northeast Abingdon does not have such a group currently.)

The Vale’s Corporate Plan for 2016 – 2020 outlines council’s aims including:

  • Supporting community groups and community events through our grant scheme.
  • Assisting voluntary and community groups that provide important services to residents, to attract volunteers.
  • Working with partners as part of the South and Vale Community Safety Partnership to deliver the annual plan aimed at reducing crime, tackling antisocial behaviour and supporting vulnerable people.

All these objectives are met by the successful early help services that Children’s Centres provide.

The Need for Funding

Examples of the sort of applications this grant would be able to fund are:

  • £5,000 capital that is required to be able to register with Companies House. This is necessary if they wish to become a charity which would enable them to apply for Gift Aid and other grant funding
  • Revenue costs for staff. Within the Vale’s grants programme, most of the funding available is for capital costs. There are hardly any grants available for revenue costs. The current staff in the Children Centres are highly qualified with specialised skills for working with Early Years children and struggling families; many may well become unemployed. This fund would enable the community groups to offer future employment without losing valued staff to the employment market.
  • The government Childcare funding for 2-year olds from low income households doesn’t cover all the costs of providing that childcare because of the expense of qualified staff needed and the required ratio of staff to children. These grants could bridge that gap so that the community groups could still offer this service to low income households and also offer paid childcare places to enable them to become financially sustainable.

Funding Process

  • These grants would be administered using the same IT systems and similar processes used for the New Homes Bonus and Community Capital grants.
  • There would be a cost associated with staff resource to evaluate the grants and prepare reports for either the Joint Area Committees or Cabinet. These costs could be minimised if only one or two dates were offered as application deadlines to encourage the eight community groups to apply at the same time. The grant department estimate these costs at £3,000 to operate the system which would cover one round only and include the following:
  1. Approval of a grant policy by the council
  2. Create a new online grant scheme
  3. Invite applications from children’s centres
  4. Advise applicants about how to apply
  5. Evaluate applications and prepare reports
  6. Decision process (cabinet or area committee)
  7. Prepare grant agreements
  8. Organise grant payments
  9. Grant monitoring
  • A grant pot of £100,000, for the various community groups to apply to for funds would equate to approximately £12,500 each. This fund would operate alongside OCC’s Transition Fund to help these community groups become viable in the short-term and giving them the opportunity to sustain these services in the long-term.

Cllr Judy Roberts

Cllr Emily Smith