Both Robert Jenrick and George Eustice, Secretaries of State for Housing and Environment respectively, declared last week in the national press that, with their plans to reform the planning system and agriculture, they will hand the next generation ‘an enhanced natural and built environment’. Jenrick said they will ‘keep all green-belt protections, with councils still responsible for local decisions’ (Jenrick, Daily Telegraph, 22 June) and Eustice said that the pandemic had shown that ‘our protected landscapes have never been more cherished’ and that Government will ‘improve access to nature, create new protected landscapes and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 … whilst maintaining vital local management and planning functions’ (Eustice, Telegraph, 24 June).
In Culham, and South Oxfordshire more generally, we know this to be false rhetoric: thanks to Jenrick’s intervention and coercion of district councillors to adopt the Local Plan 2035, despite the newly elected administration’s democratic mandate to withdraw it, the Plan IS now adopted and Green Belt in all six areas has been lost, forever.
Hopes of a legal challenge are now also at an end. Community interest company, Bioabundance, set up by one of the district councillors, tried to file for judicial review but both the High Court and Appeal Court have refused to grant a statutory review; the judges pronounced that the grounds for challenge were ‘unarguable’. Bioabundance has had to pay the defendants’ costs.
The crux of the matter was that it was only possible to challenge the legal compliance of the plan making, not the content of the Plan itself.
In our four-year campaign to try to save Culham Green Belt we have had right on our side, but the Johnson-Jenrick Government juggernaut has ultimately proved too powerful. It became clear that the designs Government have for economic growth in Oxfordshire and ‘Science Vale’ in particular, have been long in the planning and on 17th June the Science Minister announced that the Canadian company, General Fusion, will build and develop a Fusion Demonstration Plant at Culham Science Centre. The plant will demonstrate General Fusion’s proprietary Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) technology (different to the tokamak approach used in JET and the world-wide project, ITER), paving the way for the company’s subsequent commercial pilot plant. Government’s desire to create a fusion industry and its plans for Culham, along with the presence of a rail station have led to Culham having to sacrifice 300 hectares of Green Belt to development.
I am sure many of you will be wondering about the timeline for all the new houses.:
The Didcot to Culham river crossing, largely funded by a £215 million Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) grant from Government, is meant to be completed by 2024. No houses will be built until the road is built. The Council’s trajectory gives 2026/27 for the first 100 houses (though the developer will be aiming to start 2025/26), with 250 houses a year thereafter.
Next steps: We are encouraging the creation of a consortium of local parish councils (e.g. Culham, Sutton Courtenay, Clifton Hampden, Appleford) to prepare for the imminent planning application for the river crossing which will be a HUGE set of documents, and very complex. We imagine Oxford County Council will be arranging a drop-in exhibition for local residents.
There will also be a consultation period for the full planning application for the housing development as well as local involvement in the Masterplan stage.
In the meantime I would like to thank Culham Parish Council and all the SCGB committee members for their huge contribution, with special thanks to BLM Law for so much pro-bono support; and also the many non-committee members supporting the SCGB cause who have given their time and expertise to the campaign. On behalf of SCGB I would also like to thank all those villagers and supporters who have generously donated to the costs of this campaign and our barrister representation at the Examination in Public and Bioabundance’s application to the High Court