Category Archives: Cabinet

Vale Local Plan Pt 2 – housing people can afford

I’m working on my review of Vale’s Local Plan Pt2. Consultation closes the 4th of May, but we’ll be away so I want to get my comments in early this week. 

We’ve heard the Vale’s leading Tories repeatedly tell us lack of genuinely affordable housing and over-congested highways (esp A34) are the two main obstacles to growth in the Vale. 

At a recent Scrutiny meeting, I asked the Cabinet member for planning, Cllr Roger Cox of Faringdon, a few questions. 

The main thing I wanted to know was how his Local Plan will help ordinary working people on ordinary wages (UK average is about £27,000 per year) to have a decent home. 

Cllr Cox is the Cabinet member responsible for the Local Plan. I had to repeat my question more than once: “What does your Local Plan do to provide more housing that ordinary people can afford?” Finally his shoulders dropped and he said, “Nothing.”

Well there we are. 

Vote the Tories out. 

Vale commits to multiple unitary authorities 

At the Vale council meeting on 11 May members debated a motion tabled by the leader of the council, Matthew Barber. 

This Council supports the proposal by district council leaders for the abolition of existing councils and the creation of new local unitary councils for Oxfordshire. 

Furthermore this Council welcomes the appointment of Pricewaterhouse Coopers to examine all options ahead of a public consultation this summer.

Lib Dems reminded council that we just last month spent £50,000 to commission a study that’s still under way. The consultants haven’t produced their report yet. 

In debate, Lib Dems pointed out that the wording in this motion,  “new unitary councils” eliminates from consideration a single unitary authority. That’s one of the options in the ongoing study, but this motion calls for council to only support the district leaders’ dream of multiple authorities. Of course a single unitary authority is the option preferred by our county council colleagues. 

Tory debaters all missed this key point. One speaker, Cllr Howell, focused on how we need to take a leadership position. No one was saying we shouldn’t do that. We were saying this is a premature commitment that should be managed according to the plan we already have in place, and not rushed in ahead of any evidence or public consultation. 

Another Tory speaker, Cllr Sandy Lovatt, admitted he didn’t “understand what the opposition was on about.” He stated it was only a motion supporting the consultants selection and summer consultation. Cllr Lovatt needs to read more carefully and pay closer attention. He missed the point that Cllr Barber was eliminating Oxfordhire County Council’s preferred option. Cllr Lovatt is a 3-hatter, so he is a town and county councillor in addition to a Vale councillor. In short, Cllr Lovatt voted with the several district council leaders, and against his own county council’s preferred approach to a unitary authority. How awkward.  (Their other member who is also a County councillor, Cllr Yvonne Constance, was absent from the Vale council meeting. Handily.)

Nutshell: the Tories all voted for this motion, which eliminates one of the four options currently being studied, before there’s been any evidence published and without listening to the public’s views. 

All Tories voted for the motion. All of your Lib Dem councillors voted against this poor decision.

Cabinet defers decision on Botley SPD

The first thing that happened at Cabinet this morning (after a question from a member of the public about Abbey Meadow Pool, and then one about affordable housing at Grove) was that four members excused themselves in order to maintain the separation between property sales and planning.

Remaining were Cllrs Cox (chairing), Murray, Dickson and Lovatt.

Cllr Cox proposed to defer decision on the Botley SPD to give them time to check the various claims they’ve had of unlawful and unsound practices. Cabinet agreed to defer.

Those who had come to speak were invited to, if they liked. Dr Mary Gill spoke first. Then Dr Stephen Parkinson. Mr Neil Rowley of Savills declined. Cllr Dudley Hoddinott spoke too, after me.

I spoke, but didn’t deliver my whole pitch. My objective (the Main Thing) had been to convince them to go back, take another look and tighten up all the sloppy bits of this process. There was no point in arguing after that point was won. (They had me at “deferred”!)

But I questioned Cllr Cox about his conflict of interest in sitting on this panel. He was one of the Cabinet members who originally made the decision to sell the land to Doric in 2012.

I asked him if he could tell me the reason he did not take his seat on planning committee the night in Dec 2014 when the Doric application was determined. He said it was to avoid the appearance of bias. I asked what had changed between then and now, what made him think he wasn’t in the same situation. He said, “My hands are clean.” He said he has not been involved in the property side of the issue since those early days. I guess I’ll have to look and see if that’s the case.

When I asked about the timeline, we were told we can expect a statement “in a couple of weeks”.

Cabinet: Meeting Oxford’s Unmet Housing Need 7 Aug 2015

(I’ve edited this post after the Cabinet meeting, to include an update.)

About 25 people came to the Vale Cabinet meeting Friday morning (7th Aug 15). The agenda item was the report from head of planning about options for high level approaches to Vale’s commitment to duty to cooperate to meet Oxford’s unmet housing need.

Six spoke: CPRE, SPADE, Sunningwell PC, Radley PC, keep Cumnor Green, and I.

Cllrs Barber and Murray gamely tried to answer questions from an obviously opposed audience. I got that they were trying to reassure people that no decisions were going to be taken and this was the beginning of consultation on the subject. I also got that they see the BIG opposition to Green Belt development. (But I think they’re going to go for it anyway.)

You can find the report within the agenda on the Vale’s website here: Scroll down to item 6. Once the minutes are published, you can see what everyone had to say to Cabinet.

Here’s what I had to say:

Vale’s report specifically refers to a ‘proven’ need for more housing than Oxford can accommodate.

Although I understand that Oxford isn’t being seen to be doing enough to help itself, as far as I’m aware there isn’t any legal provision for determining if any declared need is ‘proven’ or not. When the Oxfordshire Growth Board’s process for handling disagreement reaches its effective limit, the issue is dropped into a filing cabinet and nothing further is done. I would encourage the Growth Board to re-address this problem amongst yourselves. Personally, I expect Oxford will do little more that it has already done, and their neighbours will have to provide. It puts to question the meaning of ‘cooperation’.

I, and my Lib Dem group, remain opposed to piecemeal removal of bits of the Green Belt for housing development. We still seek a proper, independent and public Green Belt review, where the questions asked are honestly answered. There’s no sign of that forthcoming.

How can the various districts begin to consider options to meet Oxford’s unmet housing need before we have a completed Green Belt review, particularly, as in the case of the Vale, where Green Belt land is being considered as an option to meet the unmet need?

Once the number of extra houses neighbouring districts must build is ultimately agreed, then what? Where would the houses best be placed? To divide them equally between the four neighbouring districts seems amateurish, unfair, and ineffective. I’ve been reading that City’s housing need is greatest near their employment sites, on the eastern side of the city. That should be a consideration in deciding how best neighbouring districts can together meet the need. Consideration of proximity to jobs and provision of transport is relevant. If we build somewhere other than on the eastern edge of the city, then Oxford needs a modern and effective transport system to get people from home to work, not a old system (even an expanded OLD system) that continues to rely on the over capacity A34 and local roads.

And finally, housing need is explicitly not an exceptional circumstance that would allow for developing the green belt. If we needed green belt land in order to meet SHMA figures, then that fact should have been considered as a constraint when determining Vale’s housing targets for the Local Plan. What evidence has Vale produced to support the case for exceptional circumstances that would support development on the Green Belt?


The Oxford Times covered the story: