Our District Councillor Sam Casey-Rerhaye sent this report of the Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) meeting at which the motion to accept South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) planning powers was debated:
Local democracy means nothing to County Councillors it seems. An election mandate gets in their way and the County Councillors voted to energetically collude with the Minster to remove planning powers from South Oxfordshire.
The people of our District recognised the flaws of the draft Local Plan in May 2019 elections far more than those who are meant to lead us. The emerging local plan will undoubtedly lead to speculative development because the annual targets in the plan are almost impossible to achieve.
South Oxfordshire councillors have recognised that we are in a bind because the housing targets come down from central government, including adding in extra to act as a buffer. We have approached the Ministry in good faith to tackle this issue, and to try and de-couple specific sites from the HIF (Housing Infrastructure Fund) funding to give us more latitude in a new plan or in altering this plan, but, while we have had constructive talks with civil servants, we have heard nothing from the Minister but this threat to lose our powers to the County.
Opposition Labour County Councillors spoke nonsense about how the draft Plan will help homelessness in Oxford, when this plan will do no such thing, as it will almost certainly build executive homes in the best greenfield sites. They were disingenuous or naive; either way they failed their own residents as well as South Oxfordshire’s. (Rising homelessness is a product of a perfect storm of cuts to services, Universal Credit and housing benefit failures, low wages and low interest rates). Their focus on Grenoble Road shows how they don’t get the function of the greenbelt in provoking innovative and creative ways of urban planning, something that the City Council has failed to do with their focus on employment sites. Meanwhile our District has one of the best rates of ‘affordable’ (using the dubious government definition) house building, but we all can see the volume of building in last few years has had no impact on making market housing in general more affordable.
The Conservative councillors made spurious claims about keeping the planning function local, that they faced a choice between taking the powers themselves or seeing the Minister take them, while the debate descended into insults with Councillors calling each other ‘liar’ or showing contempt for the public speakers by calling them “n’er do wells and malcontents”.
The newly elected South Oxfordshire District Councillors know, as do the people who elected us, that the Local Plan risks failing in its current form. The conclusion must be that the County Councillors are prepared to sacrifice fundamental democratic rights to clear the path for their own agenda, dividing councils in Oxfordshire which will help no one. They had the option of standing on a principle of respecting a mandate, and pursuing dialogue to find a way through but they chose not to.
Votes were 39 in favour and 16 against with 4 abstentions (4 County Councillors representing wards in the South Oxfordshire area). A cross-party group of Labour and Conservatives voted together to pass the motion accepting the powers if they were offered. Pete Sudbury (Green) voted against as did all the Libdems.