Category Archives: Green Belt

Site 2 – land north of Abingdon

The land for this development is mostly (or completely) in Sunningwell parish, which I represent. Around 900 houses are planned.

On Saturday 16th July, I attended the first of the public exhibitions hosted by the master planners, CEG. They won’t actually be building the houses. They plan the community and infrastructure and also develop a Design Code, which provides for the eventual developers the quality parameters for the developments in this community.

You can see the exhibition online at

I filled in a feedback form:

image image


Local Plan 2031 Part 1 – hearings conclude

The inspector held 5 weeks of sessions, with hundreds of people and organisations participating, all concluding on 18 Feb 2016. He gave Vale officers quite a list of further work to do, and planning officers are working hard on that list now. The inspector’s report is expected by June 2016. We’ll know formally the next steps then.

Informally, here’s what I learned.

  • Inspector was tough on inconsistencies, policies not obviously supported by strong evidence, and where the strategic housing sites were proposed.
  • Green Belt boundaries were unclear, and Vale’s most recent map had some changes on it that he called “main modifications”. These require another public consultation.
  • Many parishes and local activist groups came to do what they could to save the Oxford Green Belt and North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) from incursion or damage. Radley PC, Kennington PC, Harwell PC, Chilton PC, Cumnor PC, Hendreds, North Abingdon Local Plan Group, SPADE, Keep Cumnor Green, Oxford Preservation Trust, Campaign to Protect Rural England, were some of the groups there. Almost every PC threatened by loss of protected land came to fight.
  • West Way Concern was there alongside me in the battle to have the Botley Central Area fairly defined, rather than simply based on Doric’s failed aspirations.
  • I made the argument against removing local playing fields from GB protection, mutually with Radley, Kennington, Cumnor PCs, and CPRE. North Hinksey also faces this threat.

I’ve posted the Lib Dems’ responses on my blog. I also posted that of CPRE regarding Green Belt boundaries, because it was remarkable.

Lib Dem Submissions Local Plan 2031 Examination

Here are our submissions to the inspector for the Local Plan Examination Stage 2. (These are all links to docs in Dropbox)

In many cases we defer to the excellent submission by CPRE. See their doc at the last link below.

Refer to this list of matters : Stage 2 Matters and Questions

Vale Lib Dems on Matter 5: Green Belt Boundaries

Vale Lib Dems on Matter 8: Housing sites and Botley Core Policy 11

Vale Lib Dems on Matter 12: Infrastructure etc

Vale Lib Dems on Matter 13: Monitoring etc

CPRE on Mattter 5: Green Belt Boundaries 


Local Plan Examination Day 3

Day 3 was spent arguing about discussing the SHMA, how it was designed, conducted, its assumptions and what possible evidence there could be to support the unprecedented forecast of huge growth in jobs and housing need.

Here’s a link to the Oxford Times article yesterday about the housing figures. It’s written by  Julie Mabberly, of Wantage and Grove Campaign Group: fantastic housing figures.

If I had been QC, at the table, here are the five points I would have made in summation:

  1. Vale claim repeatedly that SHMA figures are robust and fair. Only the developers and their agents seem to agree with this and they urge that this plan be adopted now. Parishes, open space proponents and ordinary people mostly disagree. If it’s true that SHMA is robust and fair, but most people see it as not so, then the quality of the communication and scrutiny is surely questionable.
  2. There is great irreversible harm associated with adoption of a Local Plan based on an unrealistically high housing need figure. Housing sites in green spaces, including the Green Belt (GB) and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), are more likely to be brought forward first; they are less costly to develop than brownfield sites, so would be preferred by developers in order to maximise their profits. Some priority should be given to development of brownfield sites, before greenfield, then AONB, and finally GB (as GB is most protected) to ensure the permanent loss of irreplaceable space or beauty happens last, and only if needed. Of course all this applies only if we accept that housing need is exceptional enough to lose forever our Green Belt and AONB. The inspector will decide that.
  3. Corporations don’t plan 15-20 years ahead. It would be the rare one who even planned 5 years ahead. And they always forecast optimistic growth. No company would forecast stagnation. None would say, ‘We will be out of business in 8 years, with the loss of 2000 jobs.” No one would admit to a problem that’s just been exposed in Volkswagen. So of course the (unelected and unaccountable) LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) would forecast optimistic business success and unprecedented economic growth, wouldn’t they?
  4. Vale’s Scrutiny Committee were frustrated when the SHMA report came before us. Every attempt we made to evaluate their process, assumptions, baseline, or any other part of it was obstructed. For the most part, we were told that we couldn’t see how the SHMA was done as the data manipulation (sorry, ‘modelling’) was a proprietary secret. We were told by senior Vale officers that we just had to accept the SHMA as it was.
  5. Government Guidance and the SHMA legislation itself told us explicitly that SHMA was not to be accepted as our final housing target. It was a baseline against which local constraints and issues of capacity were to be applied. It is relevant that we have constraints such as Green Belt and AONB and highways capacity and Flood Zones and maybe even builders’ capacity to build houses. (Vale’s average is about 400 houses per year. Best ever was just over 800. The new targets require 1028 per year to be built. How is that deliverable?) The Vale refused to perform that step and repeatedly asserted that they were forced to accept the full SHMA as our Obectively Assessd Need ‘in accordance with national policy’.

These are the reasons the Liberal Democrat Group continue to oppose a Local Plan that uses the un-assessed SHMA figure as our inflated housing target.

If this high figure is to remain the target, then a Plan-Implement-Review- Repeat approach could help us prevent over-development. But the scramble to claim GB and AONB land for easily profitable housing development will be ensured, I fear.

Exceptional circumstances?

I’m prepping for the Local Plan Examination, which begins on Tuesday.

National planning policy says that Green Belt boundaries can only be changed in exceptional circumstances. Policy explicitly states that housing need is not an exceptional circumstance.

Vale Tories plan to remove land from the Green Belt and use some of it for housing development.

In preparing for the Examination in Public of the Vale Local Plan, the inspector asked the Vale to explain the exceptional circumstances that support changing the Green Belt boundaries.

Here is what Vale said:

5.1.5.  The Council considers that the exceptional circumstances to justify the
alteration to the Green Belt boundary are:

  • the need to meet the objectively assessed housing need in full within
    the District,
  • the ability to release land presently designated as Green Belt with no
    harm to the purposes of the Green Belt, and
  • the need to deliver sustainable development, through sustainable
    patterns of growth supported by the necessary infrastructure.


Oxford Mail Issue: Should Vale build houses in Green Belt between Abingdon and Oxford?

Oxford Mail invited me to write the NO! response. It took them a bit longer than they thought it would to find someone to write the opposing view. Matthew Barber eventually agreed. (He would have to, wouldn’t he?)

Neither of us saw what the other one wrote. But there’s a surprising amount of overlap.

Check it out ( I do repeatedly send them a new, nicer photo, but they keep using these olde crone ones) :

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:


The Problem with the Tory Local Plan 2031

IMG_1562Vale Tory logic about their Local Plan 2031 just doesn’t hold up to careful scrutiny.

Check this out.

The SHMA figures (Strategic Housing Market Assessment) for required housing over the next 15 years are high. They were established by local businesses based on their projected growth. Companies always optimistically project their own growth. Many people and organisations think the SHMA figures are unrealistically high.

SHMA housing figures were explicitly intended to be the baseline. Local authorities were expected to apply relevant local constraints to come up with a realistic housing target.

Vale Tories have repeatedly said there were no constraints in the Vale, so the SHMA figures had to be accepted as the real, objectively assessed need for new housing development.

Vale Tories propose to build thousands , okay, several hundreds of new homes in the Oxford Green Belt. (Whether they build in the Green Belt, or redefine the boundaries of the Green Belt so as to have access to that land for development, it’s the same thing.) Tories believe the only way they can meet the housing targets is to build in the Green Belt.

Isn’t that the very definition of the word ‘constraint’? If we do not have enough land to build the required number of houses without Green Belt land, then that is a constraint, and the target number of houses in the Local Plan should have been reduced.

I asked about this specifically, at the Vale Scrutiny Committee in 2014, when we looked closely at the most controversial areas of the Local Plan. No one would answer this question.

Vale Tories and their Vale officers repeated, over and over, that there are no constraints in the Vale, so we are forced to accept SHMA figures as targets.

Ridiculous. Illogical. Ruinous to our open spaces.

2014 cumnor cricket site

Emily Smith, Judy Roberts, Layla Moran, Dudley Hoddinott, Debby Hallett. In the Green Belt, Cumnor

Green Belt legislation explicitly says lack of housing land supply is not enough of an exceptional circumstance to allow development in the Green Belt.

A few months ago, Eric Pickles published some new government guidance about this.

Here’s the bottom line (from the article in link above):

A Government source said: “Many council planning officers are telling their councillors that they have to remove Green Belt protection when drawing up their Local Plans, in order to meet [housing] demand.

“We are making clear that this isn’t the case, and they can take into account development restrictions – such ongoing Green Belt protection – when drawing up their Local Plans and determining how many houses they want to plan for.”


Printed (hosted) by Hostgator, 11251 Northwest Freeway, Suite 400, Houston, TX, 77092, USA. Published and promoted by N Fawcett on behalf of Debby Hallett (Liberal Democrats), both at 27 Park End Street, Oxford, OX1 1HU, UK.

Our Green Belt needs Protecting

2014 cumnor cricket siteThe Tory adminstration at the Vale plans to take several large sites out of the Green Belt for development. I’m against the piecemeal nibbling away at the Green Belt. Yes, I know we need new homes. I think there are other sites where we can build and without endangering our open green spaces. We should protect our villages against the coalescence that the Green Belt legislation foretold.

At the Vale Council meeting on the 15th of Oct 2014, I spoke in support of a Lib Dem amendment to take the Green Belt sites out of the Local Plan 2031, and commit to a review of the Oxford Green Belt in its entirety.

Here’s what I had to say:

The officers and the ruling party are sending conflicting messages about building in the Green Belt, which are leading to reckless policy decisions, and reckless endangerment of our remaining open spaces.

Officers have told us that there is no credible constraint against accepting the SHMA figures as targets. In Scrutiny last month they said that it’s ‘obvious we have adequate land to meet our objectively assessed need’ as derived from SHMA. So there is just no credible way to adjust the targets downward.

Cllr Constance, in her question tonight, asks the Liberal Democrats for our help in identifying housing sites other than those in the Green Belt. In other words, the current administration sees no way to meet our OAN without building in the Green Belt.

So, which is it? Either we have enough land, ergo no room for manoeuvre. Or we don’t have enough land, ergo we have to build in the Green Belt (or in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

In early 2014, very late in the Local Plan process, Conservatives came to believe that there weren’t enough strategic housing sites without using the Green Belt. So they called for a review of the Green Belt. That review says its purpose was, ‘…to inform Council’s identification of potential contingency sites for housing,’ and that, ‘…it may be necessary to release land for development.’

The framers of the Green Belt legislation were prescient. They realised that housing need would grow, and they explicitly stated in the legislation that housing need was NOT enough of a reason to build in the Green Belt.

This local plan is reckless. It takes protection away from Green Belt land, forever.

Officers say it’s obvious we have enough land, so no way can we adjust our targets down from the SHMA OAN. But the administration says there isn’t enough land unless we build in the Green Belt. One of those things is false.

I don’t support this Local Plan. It’s not been carefully analysed, and it’s not been thought through. It’s reckless.

The vote split along party lines, with the one Labour and one Independent councillor both voting with the Tory majority.

(There was a bottle of fine wine on offer to the person who used ‘Reckless’ the most. Cllr Bob Johnston put us all to shame. 🙂 )


Campaign to protect Oxford Greenbelt

2014 cumnor cricket siteI’ve been helping the local Lib Dems get support in Cumnor, Botley, Sunningwell and South Hinksey for their campaign to get the Vale adminstration to look again at the proposed plans to build piecemeal on the Oxford Green Belt.

Residents have been so supportive, signing on the doorstep when we call, or via our online petition. A big Thank You to everyone who has signed our petition so far.

If you haven’t signed already, please sign the petition to help protect the Green Belt. You can do it online here:

PS. Did you know they plan to build 200 houses in the Green Belt land behind the Cumnor cricket gounds? (Right behind us in the photo above.) Did you know the Vale’s consultants recommend removing the Fogwell Road Pavilion Grounds and the Louie Memorial Pavilion and all the upper playing fields from the Green Belt protection?

I was astonished to learn that. I signed the petition. I’ll let you know when we are going to present it to the Vale. Maybe you’ll want to come along.