Category: General Updates (Page 1 of 4)

CHERWELL CAMPAIGNERS GET GO AHEAD FOR HIGH COURT CHALLENGE

The new Community Interest Company, Bioabundance, is waiting to hear whether their application for statutory review (Judicial Review) of the SODC Local Plan 2035 (SOLP2035) will be accepted by the High Court. The company claimed three main grounds:

  • The unlawful pressure put on councillors to adopt the local plan  in December 2020; 
  • technical errors in calculating the plan’s housing numbers which overstated housing requirement;
  • the impact of housing overprovision on climate change.

Bioabundance fundraising is going well but they have still to reach their target of £35,000. Please visit their crowdjustice site: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/southoxonlocalplan

Bioabundance now has 70 members including six or so Parish Councils.  Please read more about Bioabundance and its very positive aims and actions at www.bioabundance.org.uk or here for all their online platforms: https://linktr.ee/bioabundance.cic

Good news from Cherwell campaigners

In the meantime, Cherwell campaigners, Cherwell Development Watch Alliance, who launched their own Judicial Review of the Cherwell Local Plan Partial Review, which proposes 4400 houses on Green Belt.  They filed back in October 2020 and heard just in mid-February that Judge, the Hon. Mrs Justice Lang has granted a full High Court hearing.  Cherwell Council and Robert Jenrick, together with 4 landowners will have to defend: Council plan to build on green belt challenged in High Court | Oxford Mail

Although this is no indication of the final outcome, it bodes well for acceptance of the Bioabundance challenge to SODC’s Local Plan.  Both challenge the number of houses for Oxford City and on Green Belt. 

Oxford-Cambridge Expressway cancelled (official)

And more good news: A huge win today (18 March) for the various No Expressway groups as Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has today (18 March 2021) announced the cancellation of the Oxford-Cambridge (Ox-Cam) expressway, after analysis confirmed the proposed project was not cost-effective.

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/oxford-to-cambridge-expressway-project-cancelled-as-transport-secretary-looks-to-alternative-plans-for-improving-transport-in-the-region

The Government still has massive aims for what it terms the ‘Oxford-Cambridge Arc, home to cutting-edge research, globally renowned science and technology clusters and some of the most productive places in the country’.

If anyone has the stamina to read more, check out this document: Planning for sustainable growth in the Oxford-Cambridge Arc (publishing.service.gov.uk)

CAN YOU DONATE TO THE LEGAL CHALLENGE OF THE LOCAL PLAN?

Bioabundance Community Interest Company has now filed its case with the High Court for statutory review of SODC’s Local Plan. 

THIS IS NOW OUR LAST CHANCE to challenge, stop or change this hugely destructive Plan and Robert Jenrick’s intervention in our local planning.

Bioabundance need to raise an initial £10,000 within days and are actively seeking donations; they have set up an appeal on Crowdjustice:

https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/southoxonlocalplan/

Do consider taking swift action and making a donation, however modest. 

(It is very easy to do:  click the link above, decide the amount you wish to donate and enter your name and credit/debit card details.  It is a pledge at this stage, with the amount taken from your card if the fundraising target is reached).

**Please also share the link on Facebook/Twitter or via email by following the easy path offered on the Crowdjustice site**

Next steps: Bioabundance now wait to hear if the court will accept it, and for the cost order under the Aarhus Convention.*

(*There may be some delay (as background Cherwell Development Watch Alliance (CDWA) launched their legal challenge to the partial Cherwell District Council plan in October and are still waiting to hear). 

This is the Press Release that was sent out:

High Court case filed against South Oxfordshire District Council

On the 21st January 2021 Bioabundance Community Interest Company (“Bioabundance”) filed in the High Court for statutory review of the South Oxfordshire Local Plan.

Bioabundance is challenging the South Oxfordshire Local Plan 2035 on the grounds of climate change, improper pressure put on councillors to adopt the plan, and excessive and incorrectly calculated housing numbers.

The Local Plan, which allocates areas for housing development, was forced through the Council by interventions from the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government. This was against the will of newly-elected councillors who sought to withdraw the plan and start on a new one with climate change at its heart.

“This is a pioneering action by Bioabundance, and our last chance to put our environment before housebuilder profit in South Oxfordshire. This is the first time a local plan has ever been challenged because of our climate and ecological crisis.” Dr Sue Roberts, Bioabundance Chair

Legal advice for this important environmental challenge has come from lawyers with a successful track-record, such as working with Plan B and Friends of the Earth on the climate challenge of Heathrow’s 3rd runway (since overturned). 

“We thank our excellent legal team for filing this claim and supporting our urgent action which responds to climate breakdown and the collapse of the natural world”, Dr Sue Roberts

“Local community groups, some of whom have fought this plan for years, are now joining Bioabundance and are delighted that this action is being brought forward” Ian Ashley Bioabundance Treasurer

Communities all over South Oxfordshire are worried about this plan, and are joining with Bioabundance to challenge it as it: 

  • will be catastrophic for an already massively-weakened natural ecosystem
  • will increase carbon emissions markedly in the district 
  • will destroy the countryside and our part of the Green Belt around Oxford 
  • provides four times the number of homes that can even be filled, based on current trends (see household projections from the Office for National Statistics, and com/@ecomorph)

“This action is particularly important for South Oxfordshire itself. The Local Plan is incompatible with Council’s April 2019 declaration of a climate emergency, and its target for the district to be zero carbon by 2030,” Dr Amanda Griffin, Bioabundance Member 

Notes to Editors 

  1. Bioabundance Community Interest Company is the campaigning arm of South Oxfordshire Sustainability, itself founded in 2011; it works to protect and restore wildlife in South Oxfordshire and has many projects on the go.
  2. Bioabundance has over 30 members, including parishes and individual campaign groups.
  3. South Oxfordshire Local Plan 2035
  4. If the public wish to donate funds to support this legal action, they can donate here:

https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/southoxonlocalplan/

www.bioabundance.org.uk – press queries: email bioabundance@gmail.com or phone Sue Roberts (Bioabundance Chair) 07913 896 874

PRESS COVERAGE

There has been some good national press coverage so far:

     28 January / The Guardian*

 https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/jan/28/uk-government-plan-to-build-24000-homes-faces-legal-challenge

  28 January / BBC News*

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-55825679

 *CLARIFICATION ON HOUSING NUMBERS

Some of you may be confused by the bewildering differences in figures quoted in various articles. I thought it would be helpful to throw some light on this major issue (which is in the Local Plan document if you know where to look, Table 5c, Page 88).  I will set this out below:

Committed components: 16,360
made up of:
Houses already built in the plan period (which although only just adopted runs from 2011 until 2035): 7,178
Sites under construction / with planning already granted: 9,182   

New components (and the figure SODC are cunningly citing): 13,696

made up of:

New strategic sites (e.g. Culham the largest @ 3500, Berinsfield 1700, Northfields, Bayswater Brook: 11,785

Grenoble Road, Wheatley & Chalgrove)

Neighbourhood Development Plans: 454
Neighbourhood Development Plans outstanding: 211
Nettlebed allocations: 46  
Windfall allowance:  1,200 

TOTAL (in plan period to 2035): 30,056

TOTAL including 2815 houses delivered beyond 2035 by the strategic site like Culham: 32,871

▪ Office of National Statistics (ONS) assessed housing need in South Oxfordshire is 556 houses per year which would be: 13,344 for the 24 year period 2011-2035.

▪ SODC use out of date figures from 2014 of 627 houses per year

▪ Then, because of a Growth Deal with Government and all Oxfordshire councils, they inflate this to 775 per year

▪ Then they add 4950 as South Oxfordshire’s share of houses for Oxford City who say they cannot build within their boundary …

This brings the assessed need to 23,550 homes.

BUT it is the excess and buffer (32,871 allowed for in the plan instead of 23,550) that is the major cause for concern. 

We do not question that affordable housing,  in reasonable numbers, and in sensible brownfield places/urban areas are needed.

We need to protect our green spaces, our climate and air quality and our endangered nature.

NEW COMMUNITY INTEREST COMPANY LAUNCHES A LEGAL CHALLENGE TO THE LOCAL PLAN – FUNDRAISING INSTRUCTIONS TO FOLLOW SOON

1. As previously advised, in December and under pressure from directions imposed by Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, the council of SODC adopted the Local Plan 2035, complete with its six strategic sites in Green Belt including 3500 houses in Culham (and 1700 in Berinsfield).

2. Post-adoption there is a strict limit of six weeks in which ‘Any person aggrieved by the adoption of the South Oxfordshire Local Plan 2035 may make an application to the High Court under Section 113 of the Planning Compulsory Purchase Act 2004’.

3. It is important to understand that such a challenge can only be brought on the grounds that there has been a legal or procedural error. It is not possible to attack the decision to adopt the plan on its merits (or lack of merits) or whether it is bad for the residents and businesses of South Oxfordshire. The political background is also irrelevant.

4. A new and fully registered Community Interest Company (CIC), Bioabundance, has been set up by other campaign groups who, like SCGB, opposed the adoption of the Plan (Directors: Dr Sue Roberts, Ian Ashley, Secretary: Lisa Buchan).  

5. Bioabundance has pro-bono legal advice from the lawyers who provided support to the successful legal challenge relating to the third runway at Heathrow (since overturned at Appeal…) The lawyers believe there is a ‘reasonable’ case for challenging the Local Plan (LP2035) as a whole on the grounds of:

    • Climate change measures
    • Improper pressure put on councillors to adopt the plan
    • Excessive and incorrectly calculated housing numbers
    • Inadequate consultation

6. Bioabundance first sent a 22-page Pre-Action Protocol letter (PAP) to South Oxfordshire District Council and have now applied to the High Court on 20 Jan for Judicial review of LP2035.

7. A CIC cannot be set up solely to launch a Judicial Review so the existence of Bioabundance will  be ongoing whatever happens; it will be proactive in challenging breaches in environmental law (eg pollution with sewage), and exerting pressure to ensure that, as far as possible, climate change mitigation / offsetting is solid and that things such as heritage and conservation areas are protected.  

8. Bioabundance will need to raise an initial £10,000 to take the case forward. They are currently awaiting a ‘cost order’ limited by the Aarhus Convention. For the High Court stage it is estimated that a further £30k will need to be raised. 

9. Save Culham Green Belt and Culham Parish Council (now corporate members of Bioabundance) wholeheartedly support this last effort to avoid catastrophe for the district, though there can be no guarantees of success. Many of us will be donating personally and invite you to consider a donation. 

10. CROWDFUNDING: The crowdjustice funding site can be found here: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/southoxonlocalplan/

More information on Bioabundance Community Interest Group is on their website: www.bioabundance.org.uk

LOCAL PLAN ADOPTED

This update from SCGB bears the unwelcome news that you may already have read in the press:

SODC VOTE TO ADOPT LOCAL PLAN

On Thursday evening, 10 December, following a 3.5 hr online meeting, South Oxfordshire district councillors voted to adopt the hideous Local Plan 2035 with its 3500 houses in Culham and a new river crossing from Didcot to Culham, arriving at the A415 perilously close to the Europa School.

HOW COUNCILLORS VOTED

The motion to adopt the Plan, proposed by the Cabinet Member for Planning, Anne-Marie Simpson (who lives in Cholsey), and seconded by David Rouane (Didcot North East), was carried as follows:


FOR : 17

AGAINST: 7

ABSTAINED: 9

Basically all Conservative, Labour and Henley Residents Group councillors voted for adoption. The Liberal Democrat and Greens ruling group were either split or abstained.  Didcot and Henley come off well in this Plan and this is reflected in the voting.

SPEECHES
There were a number of powerful speeches by campaigners urging council to reject the plan and to use their vote, rather than abstain.  Many councillors also gave emotional speeches about their dilemma.

CENTRAL GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION

The cleft stick the ruling group found themselves in was due to the Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, imposing a ‘direction’ on the Council (on 03 March 2020) to ‘progress the plan to examination and adoption by December 2020’, under the threat of either doing so himself or passing responsibility of the district to the (Conservative-led) higher authority, Oxfordshire County Council.  In other words, the choice was between adopting the Plan, drawn up by the previous Conservative-led administration, or the Secretary of State using his powers under section 27(2)(b) of the 2004 Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (2004 Act) to adopt it himself.

If you would like to read Jenrick’s letter, here is the link: https://www.southoxon.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2020/09/200303-SofS-SODC-Decision-Letter-1.pdf

As one Green councillor wrote to me after the vote:

…  there was no way that we could win the battle; if we voted against it would have been a victory on a minor skirmish, before total annihilation. Jenrick was determined to force that plan through, and he had the power under the 2004 Act to do exactly that, with perhaps also the consequence of  abolishing South Oxfordshire District Council as an act of revenge, and passing its planning power to OCC.

You may not know who we are personally as District Councillors, but as after 20 years as a Parish Councillor seeing the vapid District Councillor, I decided to stand. I was elected because I am active in the community, and not just a party member. I know that some County Councillors are exactly that, idle and ignorant, so the prospect [of] people like that running my District made the surrendering to overwhelming odds on Thursday the least worse option.

I would say that I have been mightily impressed by my other Green Councillors, highly educated, articulate and hardworking, and if all local councillors were as remarkable as them we would all be in a better place.

WHAT HAS SCGB DONE?
Save Culham Green Belt has fought an incredibly long and hard fight and done everything we could to try and stop this Juggernaut. In addition to arranging petitions, rallies, village information meetings and getting wide coverage in local press, we have fielded speakers at every single council meeting about the Plan since May 2017 (over 3.5 years). We commissioned reports for the Parish Council’s submissions to public consultations, employing transport and planning consultants as well as professional local environmental experts and we have had on-going pro-bono legal support thanks to one of our committee members. Culham was the subject of an hour-long BBC2 documentary in Jan 2018, we appeared on Channel 4 News in March 2018, BBC South in August 2020 and on BBC’s Countryfile programme in November 2020.  We made a film with support from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) which was widely circulated, and, most recently, we raised £11,600 from generous members of the committee and wider village to fund a traffic consultant and a barrister from Kings Chambers, Manchester, to represent the Parish Council at the Examination in Public in July, the first ever Examination to be held virtually via Microsoft Teams. It is the quite appalling erosion of local democracy and wielding of power that Robert Jenrick has exercised which has brought about this very sad situation.

OUR NEXT STEPS

Our barrister is working, potentially with other barristers, to see what grounds we have to challenge Central Government.  Two central planks of the 2019 Conservative manifesto (pages 29 & 31 respectively) were:

We remain committed to devolving power to people and places across the UK. Our ambition is for full devolution across England, building on the successful devolution of powers to city region mayors, Police and Crime Commissioners and others, so that every part of our country has the power to shape its own destiny.’

We will protect and enhance the Green Belt. We will improve poor quality land, increase biodiversity and make our beautiful countryside more accessible for local community use. In order to safeguard our green spaces, we will continue to prioritise brownfield development, particularly for the regeneration of our cities and town’

Jenrick’s coercive direction and not-so-veiled threats are in direct contradiction with these Manifesto statements.  We have not given up the fight yet.  The clock is ticking: with the Plan ‘adopted’ we have 6 weeks in which to launch a legal challenge.  If there are grounds we will need to raise more than 5 times what we have raised previously and will need everyone to support a crowdfunding effort.  More news soon.

Letter sent to Oxford Mail/Times by district councillor, Sam Casey-Rerhaye.

Dear Editor,

A couple of weeks ago, The Sunday Times mentioned people referring to South Oxfordshire as ‘the dustbin’ for property developers. Being surrounded by AONBs, some inside the district itself, means the land available for the ‘Growth Deal’ policy should be limited in this district to the narrow strip between the Chilterns AONB and Oxford’s greenbelt. But supreme efforts have been made to circumvent this – apparently leading to this ‘dustbin’ rumour- a further insult to the district after the ‘dump it on Didcot’ housing-without-infrastructure policy of previous years.

In other news, Oxford University makes a lifesaving, not for profit, vaccine with Astra-Zeneca. Some of the best news we have had this year and for which we are all extremely grateful and proud.

There’s not much consistency in these two pieces of news. Oxford’s greenbelt has been accepted for the last 50 or so years as a successful tool in preventing urban creep and acknowledged as protecting the setting of this historic and successful city. The two universities and their science and technology spin offs, research at Harwell, Culham and Rutherford-Appleton, the John Radcliffe and other Oxford hospitals,  plus the Cowley car works (now converting their production to electric cars) are what this area is rightly known for and of which we are proud to be part.

So why is South Oxfordshire now a ‘dustbin’? What has led us to this point? It’s a long and winding road, but it starts with a poor economic policy, failing government funding formulas for universities, and, quite likely, housing policy written by Conservative party funders. Colleges that own land in Oxford’s greenbelt are now very keen to develop this land, their fiduciary duty to their college pushing them in this direction while the commodification of education means tuition fee limits leave colleges in deficit (though it remains true that many colleges are still very wealthy). And then there are the government agencies involved here: Homes England and UK Atomic Energy Authority – both behaving like they are private property developers.

But just building more houses will not provide the affordable housing we know is needed here (and there are limits to the success story of Oxfordshire: housing unaffordability and areas of continual deprivation being two of them). They’ll be executive homes and ‘investment properties’, a clear lesson from the last 10 years of ever-rising house prices and ever more unaffordable houses built.

I am a Councillor in South Oxfordshire, having been elected in the swing away from the Conservatives in May 2019, a swing in large part created by the ditching of protections for that greenbelt and the constraints of South Oxfordshire’s land in the Conservative’s draft Local Plan. The Secretary of State Rt Hon Robert Jenrick’s legal direction on us (firstly to stop us doing anything at all with the Plan for a full 5 months, wasting time while he worked on his General Election campaign, then, secondly, to force the Plan through examination and to consider adoption by this December) has now come to a head.  

In December, South Oxfordshire Councillors must consider the final report (not yet published at time of writing) from the Inspector on this draft Local Plan and consider adopting it in full. If we do not vote to adopt it, there are a whole raft of other things the SoS is legally able to do: accept the Plan himself for South Oxfordshire; bring commissioners in to run the Council under ‘value for money’ rules (while many other councils face bankruptcy), give all Planning powers to the County Council who have agreed to accept them if offered; take Planning powers into the Ministry and charge the District Council for this, and probably other powers of which I am not even aware. As there is another election coming this May for the County Council, we’re not expecting Rt Hon Robert Jenrick to do us any favours.

The Green/Libdem-led Council has achieved a lot in the last 18 months. We suggested improvements to this draft Plan where possible, and hope these will be accepted by the Inspector (increasing the carbon-efficiency of the homes built in the Plan as far as legally possible being one) and we have developed a council Corporate Plan for the district which will be in place until 2024. A vision that puts climate change, nature restoration, well-being and prosperity at the heart of what the Council does. We have started the process for building properly affordable, zero carbon affordable-to-run homes, we have brought both nature restoration and a questioning of growth for its own sake into the conversation across Oxfordshire, we have pushed through Civil Parking Enforcement working with other councils, and acted decisively on building a new, properly sustainable Council headquarters in Didcot after so much dither in the previous administration.  He can’t take that way from the people of South Oxfordshire, even if we are now considered a dustbin.

Yours faithfully,

Sam Casey-Rerhaye (Councillor for Sandford & the Wittenhams)

 

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION SET UP BY THE LIB DEM AND GREENS TO HALT THE LOCAL PLAN

Please read on – we urgently need your help.

Examination of the Local Plan

The Inspector has now released his ‘Preliminary Conclusions’ following the Examination in Public of SODC’s Local Plan (actually not held in ‘public’, but over Microsoft Teams).

Incredibly he has found the plan ‘sound’ and, in the words of the barrister hired by Save Culham Green Belt on behalf of Culham Parish Council: “It’s as if the examination hearings need not have happened for all the attention he has paid to our case” (or that of any of the other campaigns for that matter). See end of this email for an extract from the Inspector’s letter:

What next?  See Petition explained below 

We have to do all we can, in collaboration with other village groups (in Garsington and Elsfield for example), to stop this hideous plan being adopted.  Lib Dems and Green councillors (the leading group) are attempting to halt it, even though this is contrary to the wishes of the Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick.

This is explained in a short video:

Please, please help us by signing, and sharing the petition they have set up. It takes only seconds. The link to the petition is here: http://www.oxonlibdems.uk/sodclocalplan

When you have signed, please, everyone, share the video and petition links as widely as you can this week (email, Facebook, Twitter)  so we can get as much interest as possible. 

Thank you

Extract from The Inspector’s preliminary conclusions (which are not expected to alter substantially) regarding the Culham site (STRAT 9):

The allocations next to Culham Science Centre (STRAT9) and at Berinsfield (STRAT10) also require alterations to the Green Belt boundaries, but they are also strongly justified by the evidence. Science Vale contains an important cluster of technological activity, and supporting economic growth includes ensuring that there is enough housing, at the right price, for those working in that sector. STRAT9 is next to an important employment centre which is receiving substantial investment, and has a rail station with the potential for an improved service, […] supported by major infrastructure improvements arising from the successful HIF bid.” 

If you would like to read the letter in full, please click this further link below (all documents pertaining to the Examination in Public can be found on SODC’s website): http://www.southoxon.gov.uk/sites/default/files/IC12%20-%20Inspector’s%20Preliminary%20Conclusions%20Letter%20280820.pdf

SODC LOCAL PLAN – UPDATE FROM SAVE CULHAM GREEN BELT

Having raised £10,000 for professional advisors, Save Culham Green Belt and Culham Parish Council fielded a strong team at the recent ‘Examination in Public’ of the SODC Local Plan (held digitally over Microsoft Teams).  We had a barrister, environmental expert, and traffic consultant, as well as speakers from SCGB and a valuable contribution from a young member of the village about the climate emergency.

We have to warn you, however, that from the Inspector’s summing up session last Friday it seems he has accepted the inflated housing numbers, the ‘spatial strategy’ and all the sites except possibly Chalgrove until he has some more info (ironically the only site not in Green Belt), but will likely accept that one too. So, the Culham site has been accepted as ‘sound’ including all the boundaries and all the numbers (3,500 houses).   We are appalled.  We still await the formal written decision and statement.

The inspector was given a guided tour of Culham Science Centre on 12th August.  Sam Casey-Rerhaye, our District Councillor and Parish Council Chair, was invited to accompany him too, for ‘balance’.  But as we know, Government, led by Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, is pushing this Plan through with Culham Science Centre being used as a political tool. We did, at the last moment, gather a good twenty or so demonstrators with excellent banners and the Inspector acknowledged our presence as he drove in.

Oxford Mail covered the event.  Here is the link

https://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/18651449.culham-residents-protest-new-homes-near-culham-science-park/

and we also made the local television news on BBC South with a 5 minute report on the later evening news with four short interviews; and a shorter one earlier in the day. 

EXAMINATION IN PUBLIC OF THE LOCAL PLAN

‘Examination in Public (EiP) of the Local Plan, which would normally be a public event, is being held digitally over Microsoft Teams due to the Secretary of State’s insistence.  It is the first ever Local Plan to be held digitally.

Hearing sessions began on 14 July and can be viewed live (not available on catch-up) on the Council’s YouTube channel:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXmXwMU1kePtWsCuvxeQD8g

The hearing session on CULHAM (Inspector’s Matter 12) will be held on Wednesday 29th July from 10:00 – 13:00.  Do please support us by listening in.

Culham Parish Council will be represented by a barrister from Kings Chambers, Manchester, as well as by a transport specialist and local environmental specialist, together with Sam Casey-Rerhaye and Caroline Baird. 

Other speakers from Culham include Dr Peter Kirby, Philip Owen and John Storrs.

LOCAL PLAN UPDATE

Central Government are now riding rough shod over local democracy and our elected district councillors. As per the previous update, the Secretary of State for Housing, Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, has weighed into the SODC Local Plan process. Last October he put a ‘holding direction’ on the district council so that they could not discuss possible withdrawal of the hideous Local Plan (which still includes 3,500 houses in Culham and six strategic sites in Green Belt), or hear representations. This hold was in place for 5 months.

Then on 7th January he wrote to the Council leader saying that he was considering passing the ‘preparation, revision or adoption’ of the Local Plan to ‘the upper-tier County Council’. The County Council held a vote as to whether they would accept this and the motion was passed 29-16 with 4 abstentions.

Latest intervention

Last week Jenrick issued a NEW DIRECTION: again, just hours before the Council were due to hold public meetings. He ‘directed’ SODC:

To progress the Plan through examination and adoption by December 2020.
To report monthly to his officials on progress

And if they should fail to comply he would take ‘further intervention action’ (which means he would hand the control of the Plan to the County Council).

On Thursday 5th March there were Cabinet and Full Council meetings. Ian Hudspeth, leader of Oxfordshire County Council, had registered as a public speaker and declared the Local Plan a ‘good plan’. Furthermore he said he considers the Culham site ‘the most sustainable location in Oxfordshire’. Speeches, with strong arguments against the Local Plan, were made by Save Culham Green Belt, Garsington village, A Better South Oxfordshire campaign group, Extinction Rebellion and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE). Councillors, many of whom made their negative feelings about the Local Plan and Jenrick’s intervention clear, felt they had no option but to pass the motion to acknowledge these orders and accept that the Plan has to proceed to Examination, rather than lose control of district planning completely. It was passed 28 for and 2 against. (Those against were Simon Hewerdine and Elizabeth Gillespie, both independent councillors).

It was a very sad day for democracy, for South Oxfordshire and for Culham.

Next steps

There will be a Public Examination before long (June maybe?). Save Culham Green Belt remains committed to the fight to stop the building of a new town in Culham on Green Belt. We will need to raise funds to help ensure that we employ the best advisors to support us when we engage with the Inspectors at the Examination of the Plan. We will be in contact with you once we finalise our plans for fund-raising. Please be ready to help us all you can.

Recent press

Two recent press articles are attached can be found:

Here and here.

All correspondence between the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and SODC can be read on the SODC website here:

http://www.southoxon.gov.uk/services-and-advice/planning-and-building/planning-policy/local-plan-2034

Eleventh hour and unwelcome intervention by Secretary of State

I hardly know where to begin, but I should update you all as regards the hideous Local Plan situation because, to pinch the phrase used by another campaign group, it has more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie plot.  If you are reasonably up to date you can jump to point 4) onwards.

1. As you know, the Local Plan was submitted by South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) to the Secretary of State at the end of March.  Two inspectors were appointed but did not start work immediately principally because they were also examining the Oxford CITY Local Plan but also because they had been advised that the new Lib Dem/Green administration of SODC (following the Local Elections in May) were bringing the matter of the Local Plan back to discussion.

 

2. If you remember my last missive, meetings of SODC Scrutiny, Cabinet, and Full Council were held in July, at which Save Culham Green Belt spoke urging the Council to withdraw the Plan and start afresh.  At this point inspectors had not started examining the SODC Local Plan.  Full Council instead voted to take a ‘sensible pause’ and ask the Council’s planning officers to hold discussions with various bodies — Oxford County Council, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) etc — recognising that Didcot needs some upgraded road infrastructure that a Government grant is offering to part-fund. 

 

3. In the meantime the Inspectors have now begun examination of the SODC Local Plan and their three lengthy initial sets of questions to the Council can be found on the SODC website here. They have raised significant questions about the housing numbers, the spatial strategy and justification for releasing Green Belt away from urban centres and questioned the local level ‘exceptional circumstances’ for the Culham site (and others).  They are clearly querying similar parts of the plan to us.

 

4. On 1st October the Local Plan was brought before SODC’s Scrutiny Committee (of which our councillor, Sam Casey-Rerhaye, is a member).  A motion there recommending Cabinet keep the Local Plan and follow through with the Inspection was rejected, despite planning policy officers again recommending this course. The matter went before SODC Cabinet meeting of 3rd October. Again SCGB were well represented and an excellent motion was passed by a unanimous Cabinet to make a recommendation to Full Council that the Local Plan be withdrawn due to the excessive over-supply of homes, concerns about site-selection and its lack of response to the Climate Emergency and that work should commence as soon as practicable on a new ambitious plan suitable for the district’s economic, social and environmental needs.  The full motion can be found under the news section of SODC’s website. http://www.southoxon.gov.uk/news

 

5. This motion was due to be debated and voted on by Full Council on Thursday, 10th October, where if passed, it would have been binding upon the Council. No fewer than 34 speakers had registered and prepared speeches, including three people from Culham.  Some of the speakers were from groups wanting the Local Plan to proceed unchanged, largely because they want the Housing Infrastructure Fund money (HIF) Oxford County Council has been promised by Central Government (£218 million).  SODC has also been under pressure from neighbouring Councils concerned about losing the HIF money, despite SODC not being party to the contract for the HIF money, and about the danger of speculative development.  As SODC’s Cabinet said, however, speculators will always speculate – that’s what speculators do and the HIF bid, whilst relating to SODC’s Local Plan, should not be an over-riding issue, especially when a Climate Emergency has been declared. All 34 speakers and all 35 locally elected councillors were, however, DENIED THE CHANCE to speak or debate the Local Plan due to an 11th hour intervention by the new Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, MP (appointed by PM, Boris Johnson), who wrote to the leader of SODC just the day before, directing the Council ‘not to take any step in connection with the adoption of the Plan’ whilst he considered whether to give a ‘direction’ under section 21 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.  Despite efforts by the Council’s chief executive and legal team to challenge the direction and its lawfulness, the holding direction was not removed. After taking our seats and sitting through a standard security preamble the Chief Executive announced that due to the Secretary of State’s direction Council could not hear representations or debate and vote on the Local Plan motion and the whole agenda item was silenced.  There was outrage from the hundred or so members of the public who had arrived at the meeting in Crowmarsh Gifford.  Speakers were denied their democratic right. Our elected councillors were denied their democratic right.

6. The Secretary of State is now ‘considering whether to give a ‘direction … for the Plan (or any part of it) to be submitted to him for his approval instead of Council’.  This is called ‘calling in’. Planning barrister Christopher Young QC of No. 5 Chambers said: “this is an extraordinary decision by the Secretary of State. But we live in extraordinary times. The South Oxfordshire saga is better than any soap opera”. We are not aware of any other council that has been prevented exercising their democratic right in this way and I have written to Jenrick stating our objection. 

In my letter I state: South Oxfordshire District Council already has a robust Local Plan to 2027 and, moreover, has a very healthy 7.1 year Land Supply.  The draft emerging Local Plan 2034 which is currently with the Inspectorate is a highly controversial plan drawn up under the previous administration and includes a vastly exaggerated housing supply, calculated not by the Standard Method but under the outdated SHMA, and includes no less than six strategic sites in Green Belt.  At the local elections in May the constituents of South Oxfordshire made clear their disgust at the plan and it was on the basis of electoral promises to do something about the local plan that the current administration were elected.  They have been holding conversations via the Chief Executive with DHCLG and the Cabinet, after careful Scrutiny and soul-searching, have made the recommendation to Council that the plan be withdrawn.  They recognise the Climate Emergency and wish to start a new plan which does not contravene the Climate Emergency Act and which will be found sound at Examination.

We have been repeatedly told by the Department that the Local Plan is a matter for the Local Authorities.  Yet now you try and step in and in a quite outrageous manner attempt to hamper the locally elected councillors making a decision. You are standing in the path of democracy by your unwelcome intervention and not allowing SODC to produce a Local Plan which respects the economic, social and ENVIRONMENTAL needs of the district.

Do you even know South Oxfordshire?  It is clear that Central Government are flexing their muscles and showing how they are prepared to concrete over Oxfordshire generally in the service of the endless fairy tale of economic growth, as whatever expense to the environment, despite the Government’s manifesto to leave the planet in a better state than they inherited. 

Please urgently reconsider this intervention and retract your ruling and allow local democracy to take its course. 

I have also written to our local MP, John Howell and on 12 October had this quite shocking response.  It is clear we cannot expect any help from him:

Dear Caroline

There has been no infringement of democracy.  First, all the Secretary of State has said is that he wants more time to discuss with SODC whether he should call-in the Plan in whole or in part.  If he does so, it will go the Planning Inspectorate for examination.  This is the proper place for the issue of the Green Belt to be decided and where, as I continue to believe, the issue of too much building on the Green Belt can be examined.  Second, how is it democratic for SODC to take action that undermines and seeks to nullify the democratic opinions of Oxford City Council (Labour controlled), Oxfordshire County Council (Conservative controlled) and the Vale of the White Horse (Liberal-Democrat controlled) with regard to infrastructure. The representations from these councils have weighed significantly with the Secretary of State.  Thirdly, it is precisely to avert situations where a group of new councillors, who have very little experience of planning and who seek to undermine totally the interests of the wider community, take actions that are incredible, that the Secretary of State has these powers.  All he has done is to obtain a little more time for discussions – whatever the Liberal-Democrats and Greens may say. Lastly, I understand that a prominent Liberal-Democrat turned up at Culham and said that they were not interested in the high value, high income jobs that Culham was seeking to create and that they did not care whether the companies came here or not.  I find that view absolutely appalling and contrary to the interests of the young people Culham is training in its new apprenticeship centre and against their democratic rights too.  The Secretary of State has made a sensible use of his powers.

John

John Howell OBE MP ACIArb FSA
Member of Parliament for the Henley Constituency

I would be delighted and grateful if anyone else in his constituency (you must include your address) feels able to write to John Howell:  john.howell.mp@parliament.uk

And also, particularly, the Secretary of State.  If you are contacting the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government please use the contact form on the MHCLG website:

The link for this is https://forms.communities.gov.uk/     

Also: Twitter: @RobertJenrick / Facebook: RobertJenrickNewark)

It is impossible to guess what will happens next.  We will attempt to keep you updated.  In the meantime you can keep checking on SODC’s website.  All the letters to and from Central Government are there for all to read: http://www.southoxon.gov.uk/services-and-advice/planning-and-building/planning-policy/local-plan-2034

Save Culham Green Belt

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