Airfield site stalemate sets back South Oxfordshire local plan

Councillors in South Oxfordshire have vetoed plans to press on with submission of the district's local plan, over concerns about a major site allocation.

Last night's full council meeting. Pic: South Oxfordshire District Council
Last night's full council meeting. Pic: South Oxfordshire District Council

The South Oxfordshire local plan, which proposes 21,000 homes up to 2033, was due to be submitted for examination at the start of this year.

It includes proposals for 3,000 homes to be built at Chalgrove Airfield. However, according to a council report, landowner Homes England has been unable to reach an agreement on the site’s future with tenant the Martin-Baker Aircraft Company and has threatened the use of compulsory purchase order (CPO) powers

Cabinet members met last week and voted in favour of retaining the current plan, including the allocation of Chalgrove Airfield, and proceeding towards submission. 

However, at a full council meeting last night, councillors passed a motion requiring cabinet members to instead choose between two different options - either replacing Chalgrove Airfield with another site or retaining the allocation while identifying additional reserve sites, the option favoured by officers.

On option one, officers warned that following it "introduces a significant element of risk, insofar as the local plan inspector may find relying on a CPO process to secure the land for development for a strategic allocation unsatisfactory and potentially not meeting the requirement for available and deliverable sites for development and therefore not effective, rendering the plan ‘unsound’."

According to their report, the second and third options would involve further work on site selection and evidence gathering. The council’s decision last night now raises the possibility that plan submission could be pushed beyond the six-month timeframe for transitional arrangements that comes into force once the revised National Planning Policy Framework is published, which the government expects to be this summer. 

South Oxfordshire is one of six local authorities signed up to the Oxfordshire housing and growth deal, requiring the councils to produce a joint statutory spatial plan for delivery of 100,000 homes between 2021 and 2031, in return for £215 million of government infrastructure investment.

John Cotton, Conservative leader at South Oxfordshire, tweeted after the meeting: "Deeply disappointed that South Oxfordshire council has rejected submitting the plan that we had previously concluded was best. Months of possibly needless work ahead now and, potentially, a hole below the waterline for the Oxfordshire Housing Deal."

However, Bidwells planning partner David Bainbridge described the council’s decision to reconsider the plan's reliance on the airfield site as "very sensible and pragmatic". He dismissed suggestions that the growth deal could be undermined: "Yes, there will be delays and uncertainty, but it’s better to take the tough medicine now rather than it being imposed on you by a planning inspector."

Despite being signed up to the growth deal, South Oxfordshire's local plan currently proposes a contribution of 3,750 homes towards Oxford City Council’s unmet need - 1,200 less than its neighbouring authorities believe is necessary.

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