County council leader backs Government intervention on South Oxfordshire’s local plan

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government stepped in ahead of a meeting of South Oxfordshire District Council to prevent the withdrawal of its local plan. The recommendation to withdraw the local plan by the district council’s Cabinet was due to be considered by all councillors on Thursday 10 October.

On Tuesday 15 October, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet agreed to proceed with the Didcot Garden Town project through the government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF). The agreement is subject to Homes England and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) being satisfied that conditions in relation to the submitted South Oxfordshire Local Plan could be met (see details below).

Councillor Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said:

“I welcome the decision by the Secretary of State to put a hold on South Oxfordshire District Council’s Local Plan as this protects the much needed £218 million Housing Infrastructure Fund bid, which would provide real benefits to the area.

“Government funding requires a local plan is in place so £218 million for vital infrastructure to improve transport connections would have been lost. Putting the local plan on hold allows more time for discussion with the Government to develop a project that is truly sustainable and right for the area.

“Withdrawing the local plan would also throw into doubt the Vale’s ability to deliver the growth in its own local plan. This will lead to speculative applications across South and Vale districts, with new housing being built without the infrastructure that the local area really needs.

“Unsound local plans in South and Vale councils would also put the £215 million Growth Deal into doubt, which includes £60 million for much needed affordable homes across Oxfordshire.

“Finally, if we cannot deliver the Didcot project it may call into question our second housing infrastructure fund bid for £102 million to improve the A40 all part of our commitment to sustainable housing growth in the county, including provision of better cycling and walking routes.

“I urge the councillors of South Oxfordshire to follow the example of Vale of White Horse and progress the local plan for examination by an independent inspector. Then they can start to review the local plan knowing that they will have saved up to £535 million of vital infrastructure funding and deterred speculative development across both South and Vale.”

Background on the Cabinet decision

On Tuesday 15 October, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet agreed that:

a) Subject to the confirmation from Homes England that the contract pre-conditions relating to South Oxfordshire District Council’s Local Plan have been met, authorise the Chief Executive, in consultation with the Leader of the Council and the Cabinet Member for Environment to:

(i) approve any final detailed amendments of the drafted Heads of Terms.

(ii) approve the grant determination agreement.

b) Subject to the satisfactory completion of recommendation (i) approve the inclusion of all four projects into the Capital Programme and report the governance of these projects at a HIF1 programme level with an overall budget provision of £234m subject to the implementation of the grant determination agreement with Homes England.

The report to the Cabinet stated: “There are a number of key issues mainly associated with the delay and uncertainty surrounding SODC’s Local Plan. A pre-contract condition of Homes England and MHCLG is related to SODC’s Local Plan and commitment to housing delivery that is dependent on HIF1 infrastructure. If these conditions are not satisfied, MHCLG / Homes England will not be able to sign the contract to release funding to OCC.”

Full details are in the Cabinet report here.