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
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.
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.