Category Archives: Consultations

OxLEP SEP refresh consultation

I sent in my response today. You have until Friday to respond. 

1. How does the SEP capture the main characteristics of the Oxfordshire economy, its challenges and opportunities?

I read this week that the workforce population is set to decline over the next decades.

The ambitious jobs growth projection seems to mean people living elsewhere will come to work in Oxfordshire. With roads at or over capacity, what plan are there to increase capacity?

The AONB and Green Belt are constraints on development.

I don’t think the SEP does enough to tackle or even recognize these two main constraints: roads and other infrastructure to support planned development, and an environmental sustainability aspect. I get that your focus is economic growth. But in a sustainable world, you need partners who look out for the environmental and social aspects of sustainability. I think that’s lacking in your plan and approach.

We have a problem here in Vale with home affordability. If we continue to attract low paying jobs (eg, warehouse, retail, services industries, other unskilled jobs) that don’t pay enough for people to be able to afford to live here, then we need to adapt housing policies to meet the needs of the workers.

2. People – are the right priorities and commitments included? If not, what is missing?

Young people and workers on average wages are being priced out. I don’t see anything in these plans to address this problem. IMO, this is the main challenge we face in the county.

If the working age population is declining, then presumably the other age brackets are growing (since population is forecast to grow). As people live longer and need places to live, what sort of growth strategy considers what’s needed for them? Could a plan for housing for older people contribute to growth and jobs here?

Should we consider whether some parts of Oxfordshire are full? Oxford City, for instance, is unable to meet its housing needs, yet continues to commit its available land to jobs growth. This short term focus on growth at all costs is guaranteeing longer-term problems with impassable roads, and ever-out-of-reach-to-theaverage-worker housing prices.

How will we educate our children when our population has doubled? Many families already cannot find a school place locally. This would seem to be a clear criteria for People.

3. Place – are the right priorities and commitments included? If not, what is missing?

I don’t see a priority to protecting what you’ve called our ‘key asset’, our natural environment.

As I said before, if your remit is to plan for sustainable growth, then it’s an ethical question that would be well answered by proactive partnering with residents and organisations that have views on environmental and social aspects of sustainability. For example, what if all development had a carbon-neutral requirement? Wouldn’t principles like that actually contribute to the world-leading reputation you aspire to?

It would be helpful (even if not mandatory) to have environmental assessments in place for the various bits of your plans. How else do you know about their viability?

4. Enterprise – are the right priorities and commitments included? If not, what is missing?

How will you measure jobs growth? Should there be a categorisation of jobs?

We may say we want jobs across the spectrum of pay grades, jobs for all skill levels and qualifications. But if we continue to create more low paying jobs, where will those workers live?

I think it serves the population well to promote balanced growth, as I’ve said before. If we do all we can to encourage young people to get training to quality them for jobs they’ll find personally and financially rewarding, and then provide those sorts of jobs, and homes they can rent or buy, we’ll have something to point to with pride.  

Also as technology or other conditions make certain jobs obsolete, it would serve the population if we had a scheme that provided re-training to mature workers who need to change jobs.

5. Connectivity – are the right priorities and commitments included? If not, what is missing?

Our bus services are being cut back, and at the same time housing developments are planned for sites that allow more reliance on public transport. Our cycle tracks are below standard. Trains are SRO, and there’s no link between Wantage and Oxford. If we are serious about promoting non-car travel, we need higher priority for high-quality public transport.

With the planned growth in jobs and houses in the Wantage and Grove area, where’s the plan for a rail station there?

6. Does the SEP articulate clearly the roles and responsibilities of OxLEP?

As far as I can see, OxLEP is unaccountable to the people,. Without any way for the people whose lives and jobs are affected by what OxLEP decides to have any input into the decisions made, there’s bound to be strain. Meetings are private; the public have no role in the way it’s set up and led today.

As I said elsewhere, I think that since it was set up like this by government, it’s understandable.

But I feel there is a moral and ethical responsibility to be more inclusive, collaborative and accountable to better serve the residents of this county. Since that isn’t legislated, it has to come from the principles of the key players, or the ‘corporate culture’. In some sense, it’s even more important, simply from the fact that it’s not required but something to point to as ‘the way it should be done’.  

25 May 2016

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.

OxLEP’s SEP refresh consultation

Say what??!

The Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP) plans to ‘refresh’ their Strategic Economic Plan (SEP) and hold a public consultation. Here’s my note about it all:

OxLEP is a quango whose purpose is to promote economic growth in Oxfordshire. Their premise is that “Growth is Good”. They essentially bid for big money from government to support large infrastructure projects in Oxforshire.

See more about them here: http://www.oxfordshirelep.org.uk/content/about-us

OxLEP are not democratically elected; they were formed by Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Their strategy doc is the Strategic Economic Plan (SEP), published in 2014. They state in their FAQs doc for this upcoming consultation that they did not consult the public before publishing the original SEP, because they ran out of time.

(There is a saying making the rounds on Facebook this week: Instead of saying ” I don’t have time” try saying ” It isn’t a priority for me”. How does that feel?)

They are ‘refreshing’ the SEP, and holding a public consultation. See their SEP refresh FAQs doc here: http://www.oxfordshirelep.org.uk/sites/default/files/SEP%20Refresh%20FAQs%20Final.pdf

The SEP is the source of the anticipated jobs growth figures that underlie the astronomical housing figures in the SHMA. I think the jobs growth figures are unevidenced (that’s what I’ve been told, and I haven’t seen any evidence myself.) LEP claims the housing figures are nothing to do with them, but come from SHMA. That’s disingenuous, because the housing need figures are based on the SEPs jobs growth figures. All of this has led to the local plans to grow Oxfordshire such that the equivalent of two new Oxfords must be built in the next 15 years. Local authorities’ plans to permanently remove large swathes of the Green Belt land from protection are based on SEPs jobs figures which are based on something the public has never even seen.

This SEP is being ‘refreshed’. And they will hold a public consultation on the refresh between mid-April and Mid-May. But the refresh doesn’t visit all of the SEP contents, so this is a consultation on a part of the SEP. They will not be revisiting their numbers, as I understand it. So the figures that led to the SHMA figures will remain as they are without any pubic consultation.

There is a steering group listed in the FAQs doc for this consultation. All district councils are included, except Vale of White Horse. I think this is an error, and that since Anna Robinson sits on that group, and she works for both SODC and VWHDC, that Vale IS represented. I’ve just today asked OxLEP for clarification on this. I also have a provisional meeting with Anna Robinson next week about this consultation.

Within the FAQs doc, notice the schedule for the consultation, and particularly the time allowed after the consultation for results analysis and consideration of how the consultation will inform any changed to the SEP. There are three working days between the end of consultation and first draft publication of the consultation report. Three days. That gives a pretty clear view of how seriously they take their responsibility to consult. Looks like a box ticking exercise to me. As usual, I’d like to be proved wrong about this.

I am encouraging Lib Dems throughout Oxfordshire to promote openness and transparency in this consultation. The bigger aim is to do what we can to ensure OxLEP fairly represents Oxfordshire’s needs for future growth.

Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. The public deserves a meaningful say in growth targets for Oxfordshire; they’ve had none so far, and this consultation doesn’t include the growth figures.
  2. As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, there has never been a debate about LEP’s SEP in any Local Authority Council or Cabinet.
  3. In addition to economic growth, there are also social and environmental considerations that lie at the heart of decision making about sustainable growth. How are these consideration being included?
  4. We think a growth strategy should have a full (and meaningful) public consultation.
  5. We think a growth strategy should have an Strategic Environmental Assessment.
  6. We think the SEP consultation should include access to the evidence base supporting the SEP’s strategy.
  7. How can SEP be evaluated without knowing what infrastructure is required and whether it’s deliverable?
  8. At their workshops recently, their questions were closed-end or leading. We think well-formed open-ended questions provide space for any sort of disagreement with the basic principles they’ve adopted. Example questions from one workshop:
    1. Does Oxfordshire have world-leading connectivity?
    2. What kinds of connectivity are most important in seeking to achieve the outcomes linked to SEP’s vision (ie vibrancy, sustainability, inclusivity, world-leading)?

I know the public who are aware of this care about it. A lot. I intend to do what I can to ensure the consultation is meaningful. Too often, there are no significant changes that come from public responses, even when the public response is serious, fundamental, and evidence-based. I’m hoping we can have a positive impact on that and that things will get better.

 

Botley SPD – the 2nd consultation results

I decided to explore what the consultation responses held, and the link to those is here:

https://consult.southandvale.gov.uk/portal/vale/planning/pol/botley_spd/botley_centre_draft_spd?tab=list

The first consultation had over 300 responses; this time there are only 38. Consultation fatigue has set in. For people conserving their energy for the main thing, which is the planning application due later on this month, a second consultation on this SPD, when their first responses were largely ignored, was just too much.

Many of the respondents sent a letter (either instead of responding to the online questionnaire, or in addition to it), which can be accessed under each entry.

You might want to have a quick read of some of these. They tell quite a story.

Local Plan Examination Day 2

The morning session finished up the Duty to Cooperate and other legal requirements. Quite a lot of time was spent discussing the consultation process and the unfriendly system currently in use. This was under the topic of whether Vale satisfied its requirement to work according to the principles laid out in its Statement of Community Involvement. (I didn’t mention that this doc is so out of date it lists Dr Evan Harris as a statutory consultee. It’s from 2009. Even some of the bodies mentioned in there no longer exist.)

One letter of submission related how difficult to use even average users found the online system, and that they felt forced to use it from the advice they’d had from Vale. They felt it was unusable by many  disabled people or other ‘hard to reach groups’. CPRE’s submission had a detailed section on the shortcomings of the Housing Delivery Consultation from 2014; comments not counted, or hundreds subsumed into one, and strong points resulting in no changes to the Local Plan docs. I endorsed that.

I had a chance to relate two things: first, in the past 24 hours I personally encountered bugs in the Consultation system and requested help from Vale staff to complete my online  questionnaire, and second, that I had been asking for years in full council for Vale to publish the responses they had and how those responses had informed changes to the Local Plan, and was repeatedly put of with a promise that it would be published when the Local Plan was. Inspector asked the Vale, ‘Weren’t most of the changes that came from responses just minor? Answer: Yes.

One man, Dr N Perkins, was invited to speak primarily because his consultation response had gone missing. The inspector offered up the fact that this Local Plan had more submissions than any other he has ever seen. They are printed out in binders on the stage behind him, and there look to be maybe 25 – 30 binders. Vale’s QC tried to convince the inspector (and everyone else) that the missing document was a one-off, but Inspector clocked that there’s no evidence there weren’t many more missing responses. Then, in a breathtaking display of arrogance, Vale’s QC also said that it didn’t really matter if some responses were missed out, because they probably had nothing new to contribute anyway. Dr Perkins closed it out by saying, ‘Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.’

One other interesting bit. Discussion about the compliance of Vale’s 2 part Local Plan, where decisions about the final 5% of development sites aren’t due for something like 3 more years. Many parish councils pointed out the high level of uncertaintly and confusion this creates in terms of their Neighbourhood Plans. If they new the exact numbers of homes their parishes needed to take, they could get on with deciding where the new houses would go.

The afternoon session opened the consideration of the SHMA figures, housing and employment figures. Dr Tony De Vere, former Leader of the Vale council, took over the Lib Dem seat at the table. I moved back to the second row, which is apparently just out of range of the microphone system. 🙁

I was happy to hear Julie Mabberly, of Wantage and Grove Campaign Group, point out the agricultural workers growth figures. This is where SHMA predicts huge, unprecedented growth in agriculture workers in Vale, such that 750 houses would be required to house them; 750 houses is like a hole new village. One man, not sure if he was Oxfordshire County Council or a Vale consultant, admitted (with some embarrassment) that these figures were unlikely to be accurate. Everyone then queried that if there is no confidence in this figure, how were we to have confidence in the other figures.

Julie also pointed out the data showing negative jobs growth in recent years, and very low population growth too. Look for an article in today’s Oxford Times about this.  Vale launched into an argument to say that past performance is not indicative of future performance. Vale denied that they jobs growth figures were aspirational, but others said there is no evidence to support such high projections. Inspector has asked for the various data sources and will determine which are more indicative.

Inspector asked if there is evidence that any new jobs created wouldn’t be filled by people already living here, rather than people immigrating from outside Vale? Good question. I didn’t hear the answers, The microphones are a constant problem, and I was no longer at the table for this part of the discussion.

Hearings resume Thursday 10am at The Beacon in Wantage. It’s open to the public.

 

Botley Centre SPD – my view

IMG_1827

Botley shopping area boundary from Local Plan 2011

I’m working on my response to the Botley Centre SPD. The official consultation questionnaire begins with items from page 16 (out of 34). Do they assume we all agree (or at least don’t disagree) with everything that comes before?

I’ve decided to write a letter, and go page by page, addressing each paragraph on its own. I generally feel manipulated in feedback questionnaires when they don’t ask the questions about issues I feel are most important. (Like when a holiday hotel asks you how clean the room was, but not about their provision of wifi.)

I object to undefined wording, such as ‘highly sustainable’ and ‘truly sustainable’, and vibrant/exciting/bold, ‘high quality and presigious’. And so on.

Botley SPD vision

Vale’s Vision for Botley – click to enlarge

My overall view is driven by para 1.2.2. They state that the previous application was refused because of the significant level of local opposition. I disagree, strongly. The application was refused because sensible members of planning committee saw that this didn’t serve Botley’s needs. It didn’t fit the site, nor the needs of local residents and businesses. I recall Cllr Lovatt saying in the Planning Committee meeting, “Botley deserves better.” (Cllr Lovatt is on Cabinet now.)

So Vale’s response has been to enshrine Doric’s aspirations as put forward in their failed planning application into policy, such that if the same application were to be submitted again, it would be approved, based on this SPD.

I most certainly STRONGLY DISAGREE and intend to make that point as eloquently as I can. (However, I promise to restrict my use of adverbs.)

County Consultation on bus services and Dial a Ride

Here’s a letter I had from the County about this consultation. ~ Debby

 

Dear Oxfordshire District Councillor,

RE: Subsidised buses and Dial-a-Ride – public consultation

I am writing to tell you about a public consultation being held over the next 12 weeks about a possible change to the subsidised bus and Dial-A-Ride services in Oxfordshire.

The council would like to get your views so that we can fully understand all opinions and potential impacts of any proposed change. Further details about our proposals and an opportunity to respond can be found at: www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/stconsultation

As an District Councillors, we would also be grateful if you took the time to pass this information on to any of your constituents who you think may be effected or in any way interested in feeding back into our consultation process.

Why is the council making savings?

On-going cuts in central government funding mean Oxfordshire County Council has to make savings. The council is currently in the process of making approximately £290 million of savings. Those savings began in 2010 and run until 2018. On top of those savings, the council currently believes it may need to save a further £60 million.

Supported transport savings

As part of the council’s budget setting process in February 2015, councillors reduced the overall supported transport budget by a fifth (£6.3 million). As far as possible, we are trying to make these savings in supported transport by running services more efficiently.  We have identified that we can achieve nearly £3.7 million in savings by bringing together all the supported transport services we operate and fund.  However, this is not enough.  The council needs to find a minimum of £2.6 million in additional savings and this means looking at supported transport services which the council is not required to provide by law.  This will inevitably impact some people in the county.

Have your say on our proposals

Please visit www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/stconsultation and let us know what you think of our proposal for the Dial a Ride service, and our proposals in relation to subsidised bus services including:

Subsidised buses – Withdrawing bus subsidies altogether

Subsidised buses – Reducing funding to subsidised bus services – and adopting the principle of prioritising, where possible, services most likely to be used by the elderly and disabled

Dial-a-Ride – Ending direct funding of the Dial-a-Ride service – encouraging community transport groups across the county to deliver a replacement service.

You can read a copy of the consultation document online at www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/stconsultation or pick up a copy at an Oxfordshire County Council library.

We are also organising five ‘Subsidised Bus and Dial-a-Ride public consultation’ events at venues across Oxfordshire to explain our proposals and to get feedback. Meetings are open to everyone and are being held on:

  • Mon 6 July in Banbury Town Hall, Banbury – 10.30am-12.00pm
  • Mon 6 July in Didcot Civic Hall, Didcot – 16.00pm-17.30pm
  • Tues 7 July in Witney Methodist Church, Witney – 10.30am-12.00pm
  • Weds 8 July in Abingdon Guildhall, Abingdon – 16.00pm-17.30pm
  • Weds 8 July in OCC County Hall, Oxford – 19.00pm-20.30pm

Oxfordshire County Council have asked that the Oxfordshire Rural Community Council (ORCC), a not for profit, community development organisation are the independent facilitator during the consultation. If you need support in commenting on the county council’s proposals or are interested in attending one of our events, please get in touch with the Oxfordshire Rural Community Council on 01865 883488 or email orcc@oxonrcc.org.uk.

Thank you for taking the time to read this message and please don’t hesitate to contact my team at Supported.Transport@Oxfordshire.gov.uk if you have any further queries.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr David Nimmo Smith

Homelessness Strategy – consultation deadline 14 Jul 2015

Here’s the letter I had from Vale about this important consultation. Please take some time to read it and respond. ~debby

Dear Sir/Madam,

South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils invite you to comment on a draft strategy which proposes measures to prevent and relieve homelessness across the districts.

The purpose of the consultation is to seek views on the aims, objectives and actions that we are proposing.

We would very much appreciate any comments you may have on the attached draft strategy.

A summary of our strategic aims and objectives appears on page 18 of the strategy, followed by the proposed action plan on pages 19 to 34.

How to give your views

To tell us what you think about the attached draft strategy, please complete our online form by clicking ‘start survey’ below.

https://consult.southandvale.gov.uk/public/southandvale/health_and_housing/hous/joint_homelessness_strategy_2015-2020

The consultation runs from 16 June to 14 July 2015.

What happens next

We will consider all responses to this consultation and refer to this evidence when finalising the Joint Homelessness Strategy.

Further information

If you would like further information about this consultation or the Joint Homelessness Strategy, please contact Phil Ealey, Housing Needs Manager, phil.ealey@southandvale.gov.uk  or 01235 547623.

 

Local Transport Plan Raises Further Concern for the Green Belt

Debby and Emily in Sunningwell 2014

Debby and Emily in Sunningwell

This is a guest post by Emily Smith.

Sunningwell Parish Council and SPADE (Sunningwell Parishioners Against Damage to the Environment) held a consultation event the last weekend in March, to find out what residents thought about the County Council’s Local Tranposrt Plan (LTP).

There was an excellent turn out and some very involved discussions about the potential impact of the LTP and the Vale’s Local Plan on our villages.

Ideas outlined in the LTP include building new Park & Ride sites outside of Oxford’s ring road and creating a ‘diamond’ junction at Lodge Hill to help ease congestion in Abingdon and Oxford. If all of the proposals in the LTP consultation went ahead alongside the housing development proposed in the Vale’s Local Plan, residents are concerned that Sunningwell and the surrounding area could change dramatically. While many of the plans in the consultation are very vague, local people took this opportunity to tell the County Council what they think.

Concerns raised at the event included;

  • Loss of Green Belt land between Sunningwell and Abingdon
  • Noise and light pollution from a Park and Ride and Lorry Park being too close to existing housing
  • ‘Rat running’ through the villages to access the A34 and Park and Ride near Lodge Hill
  • Lack of traffic modelling to inform the Park & Ride strategy and lack of evidence that it would reduce congestion on the A34

Ideas to create cycle and ride facilities at Lodge Hill were discussed as well as alternative sites for a Park and Ride at Marcham or Milton interchanges and the need for Park & Ride services to complement local bus routes.

The consultation ends 2nd April. You can respond to the consultation via this link: https://consultations.oxfordshire.gov.uk/consult.ti/CO_LTP4/consultationHome

Debby adds: If you miss the deadline, you can still contact your county councillor to get your opinion into the decision makers. Contact me if you need help doing that.