Planning Inspector Raises Doubts Over Oxford City Council’s Housing Figures

A number of fundamental questions about Oxford City Council’s submission of its local plan have been raised by the planning inspector in his initial questions and comments. These questions are strikingly familiar to anyone who was at the Public Inquiry into Cherwell District Council’s Local Plan Review earlier this year.

At the hearing, local campaigners called on Cherwell to delay any further work on the plan to build 4400 houses on prime Green Belt in Kidlington, Yarnton and Begbroke until the true figures of housing need in Oxford were known.

Cherwell’s local plan review is predicated on a perceived obligation to help meet Oxford City’s housing need. Campaigners against the plans have repeatedly argued that Oxford’s need cannot be quantified until their local plan has been agreed, approved and published. Something the City Council has been slow to progress.

Instead, District councils have relied on guesswork and a ‘working assumption’ from the Oxfordshire Growth Board (OGB) based on figures in the 2014 Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA). A report that itself has been highly criticised since its publication.

Cllr Ian Middleton with Layla Moran MP in Yarnton

In response, the City Council commissioned an update to the SHMA. This demonstrated that the original figures were over-estimates, a conclusion backed by follow up analysis from an independent planning consultant presented to the Cherwell hearing. Both the city and district councils, including Cherwell, have sought to ignore the implications of these reports, but the inconsistencies have not escaped the planning inspector. These include:

  • The fact that figures being used to underpin assumptions of need are now over 8 years old
  • That the 2018 SHMA points to a significantly lower housing need than that shown in the 2014 version and that these figures have not been incorporated into the City’s plan.
  • Inconsistencies in estimated housing capacities in the City’s plan and the ‘Growth Deal’ proposals
  • Suggestions of prescriptive planning policies that preclude development in numerous key areas
  • Concerns over double counting of homeless numbers where new households are ignored
  • Inappropriate market ‘uplifts’ producing around a 30% over-estimate of housing need

Ian Middleton, Cherwell District Council’s new Green councillor said “The inspector’s comments are a clear vindication of the position taken by groups opposed to Cherwell’s plans to devastate green spaces in South Cherwell on the basis of an assumed need that has been significantly inflated.

Cllr Ian Middleton at the Cherwell Public Inquiry

During the public inquiry, Cherwell resolutely refused to listen to calls from myself and MP Layla Moran to delay their plans until the City’s need had been properly established. It’s now clear we were right and the need to suspend Cherwell’s local plan review, regardless of their planning inspector’s verdict, is even more urgent.

The assumptions on housing need used by the OGB have now been undermined by 2 independent studies, and a planning inspector. How much more evidence does the council need to admit that their proposals in Kidlington, Begbroke and Yarnton are misguided and woefully unsound?

It would be hugely irresponsible for a council to impose such sweeping and irreversible damage on local communities when they know that the data underpinning those plans is at best questionable and at worse completely wrong”

The planning inspector is expected to publish his response to the Cherwell Local plan review in the next few weeks.

You can see the full text of the planning inspector’s comments and questions on the city council plan here https://www.oxford.gov.uk/downloads/file/6397/ic1_-_inspectors_initial_questions_and_comments_to_occ

Written on June 19, 2019