Category Archives: Local Plan

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. 

Local Plan consultation thru 4 May

I’m proud of my work over the past few years with some of our local parish councils, residents and other groups. We sought to protect our open spaces in the northeast area of Vale.

We’ve taken our share of housing here, and we do all we can to support appropriate development. 

Under Local Plan Part 1, we have about 1300 new houses to come in the Tilsley Park area, in land Vale removed from the Green Belt. There are other former Green Belt sites in Radley and Kennington. But we managed to save more than 20 sites that Vale Tories wanted to remove from the Green Belt, including many local playing fields. 

Now the Vale’s Local Plan 2031 Part 2 defines the sites for the rest of our housing need, plus our share of Oxford’s housing need that they aren’t able to meet for themselves. Sites over 50 houses are included; smaller sites are not. 

So there will be no further incursion into the Green Belt in the north east area through 2031. At least, that’s the proposal. 

You can read the Local Plan 2031 Part 2, and comment via this link: 

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.

Is it OK for us to thank ourselves?

A Tory councillor, formerly of these parts, tabled a motion at council meeting 20 July 2016:

Council welcomes the interim findings of the Local Plan Inspector, which allows the process to move on to modifications stage ahead of final adoption. Council thanks the officers and councillors involved in directing the Local Plan process for their hard work, professionalism and perseverance and looks forward to the successful adoption of the Local Plan Part 1 in due course.

My first thought? Well, here’s another of those Tory self-congratulatory motions telling the world what a good job they think they’ve done. But it was residents, parish councils and community groups who fought the Tories the whole way to save some of the Green Belt and AONB.

So we (Lib Dems) proposed an amendment:

Council welcomes the interim findings of the Local Plan Inspector, which allows the process to move on to modifications stage ahead of final adoption. Council thanks the officers, and councillors, parish councils, residents and community groups involved in directing the Local Plan process for their hard work, professionalism and perseverance and looks forward to the successful adoption of the Local Plan Part 1 in due course. 

I had an email from Cllr Sandy Lovatt, who said he’d like to see ‘councillors’ come out, as self-congratulatory motions aren’t the done thing. I agreed, as that was totally my first thought.

In the debate, I said:

  • The original motion thanks ‘councillors’  I think self-congratulatory motions are bad form, so I support removing that word.
  • Thousands of members of the public engaged in the Locl Plan process, and dozens of parish councils and community organisations did too. This was the biggest Examination anyone had ever seen. It is due to the engagement of everyone that the plan is now likely to be found sound, and that much of the Green Belt and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is preserved.

To be honest, I don’t remember whether ‘councillors’ stayed in was was taken out. I pronounced this a silly thing to be spending time debating, and said I would support it either way.

Motion, as amended, passed.

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.

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.


Local Plan Examination Day 1

I’ve set aside a few minutes this morning to give my view of the main events on Day 1 of the inspectors hearings. Corrections to any of my ‘facts’ are welcome. There may be things I havent realised; please let me know.

The first matter discussed (of four matters over these two weeks) was whether the Vale has satisfied its legal Duty to Cooperate with neighbourng authorities, particularly over the matter of how Vale will help to meet Oxford’s unmet housing needs.

The room was packed. There were probably more than 50 in the audience. There were about 25 or so at the table (authorised to speak) and five were women (incl me, obv, and Cllr Judy Roberts, who was at the table for Cumnor Parish Council. Helen Marshal Director of CPRE. Also a woman from SODC whom I don’t know, and Sophie Horsley, head of planning policy. Some female members of her staff also joined in sometimes). I tend to notice these days where any panel or committee is particularly unbalanced. You may have heard my song #blokesblokesblokes. Limiting bodies to all men is bad practice.

Anyway. The Queen’s Counsels at the table dominated the conversations, as I would have expected. Clients need to feel they are getting their money’s worth. They were all men.

Cllr Matthew Barber spoke and then stepped back from the table to let the officers and the Vale QC do the talking. I was surprised to notice Cllr Michael Murray wasn’t there; he’s the Cabinet Member for Planning Policy, and this is his most important work. Odd that he wasn’t there. I noticed two Tory Vale councillors (there are many new ones and I don’t know them all). Attending for the Lib Dems: Jenny Hannaby, Judy Roberts, Bob Johnston, Catherine Webber and me, of the current council. Dr Tony De Vere, and Richard Webber, previous leaders. Tories: 3 of their 29 councillors, Lib Dems: 5 of our 9 (Lib Dem Conference is going on right now).

Vale believe they have shown up in good faith at and participated in the Oxfordshire Growth Board meetings, which demonstrates compliance. OGB is apparently the vehicle where these numbers and locations were meant to be achieved. Vale thinks Oxford’s refusal to review its pre-SHMA Local Plan to see what more they could do to help themselves meet their increased needs has made resolution s-l-o-w. Vale decided they could NOT have Oxford’s reluctance to cooperate endanger their own Local Plan being adopted, so they put in the plan that they intended to cooperate fully, once the actual figures and the agreed number of houses Vale should take, were known.

Oxford City believe they have suffered, and will continue to do so, from Vale not doing enough in this Plan to meet Oxford’s unmet housing needs. The shortfall in City is believed to be from approximately 8000-16000, but no agreed process has completed to determine the real amount, nor to analyse potential locations and apply selection criteria to them. City thinks Vale should have done an estimate and included that number of extra houses in their plan. Even as few as 50, would have satisfied them that Vale are doing all they can, QC said. (An odd argument, I thought.)

At this point I stated that Vale had an evidenced based plan (how many times have we heard that?) and to take a guess in this instance and use any old number would have been met with outrage from the public, and a plan based on such a random guess would likely not be found sound either. One of the QCs and the County Council (who want this plan adopted yesterday so they can get on with infrastructure plans) took that argument forward (that was fun!).

Last point: Green Belt boundaries are not to be changed very often. The plan removes 18 sites from Green Belt protection. If Oxford’s unmet need must be satisfied by developments in the Green Belt, is there enough land now being removed to accommodate this undetermined number? Vale first said hat couldn’t be known because there has been no process to identify locations or sites for Oxford. Oxford argued that it was obvious that GB boundaries would need to change again. Then Vale changed their message and said there was enough space identified in the current spatial strategy, plus their building is actually producing more windfalls now, that Vale were confident they’d be able to meet their share of Oxford’s unmet need without further GB boundary review.

At this point, there were gasps throughout the hall, as Vale changed their position. Inspector then asked his two authorities to go away and come back in a week to report if they had any common ground to agree between them. I thought the scene very odd; it looked like Vale hadn’t thought their position through. So we have that outcome to hear about by next Tuesday.

I don’t support this Local Plan 2031, but not on the grounds of Duty to Cooperate not being  met. The duty to cooperate isn’t a duty to agree. I think Vale did the best they could, relying on a weak process that isn’t effective , within the Oxfordshire Growth Board. (Which is all men.)



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.