South Oxfordshire leader quits following local plan defeat

The leader of South Oxfordshire Council has announced his intention to stand down from the post just days after failing to drive through progress on delivering the district's new local plan.

Chalgrove airfield: site allocated for 3,000 homes in draft local plan
Chalgrove airfield: site allocated for 3,000 homes in draft local plan

Last week, councillors in South Oxfordshire vetoed plans to press on with the submission of the district's local plan, citing concerns about a major site allocation.  

Cabinet members had voted in favour of retaining the current plan, including the allocation of Chalgrove Airfield for 3,000 homes, and proceeding towards submission. 

However, at a full council meeting last Tuesday, 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.

John Cotton, the council's Conservative leader, 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."

The deal, agreed between the government and six councils in Oxfordshire, sees the local authorities commit to delivering 100,000 new homes by 2031 in return for £215 million of government infrastructure funding.

However, the level of housing delivery in South Oxfordshire has emerged as an area of contention, with South Oxfordshire proposing a lower level of housing development than neighbouring authorities believe is necessary to meet spillover need from Oxford.

South Oxfordshire's current plan, including the Chalgrove Airfield site allocation, proposes a contribution of 3,750 homes towards Oxford's unmet need - 1,200 less than its neighbours believe is necessary.

Cotton's resignation as council leader, amid uncertainty about the timetable for South Oxfordshire's local plan submission, raises further questions about the approach the authority is likely to take towards meeting its obligations under the government's Oxfordshire housing deal.

Cotton initially resigned as leader of the local Conservative group on 14 March but remained as head of the local authority. 

His resignation as Conservative group leader was prompted by the threat of a motion of no confidence from fellow councillors, many of whom have expressed dissatisfaction about the direction of the local plan. 

Cotton had been expected to seek re-election at the Conservative group’s elections on 12 April, but has now announced he will be relinquishing both his positions.

He will continue to serve as a councillor for Berinsfield, Dorchester and Drayton St Leonard. 

Cotton tweeted a statement using the hashtag #LifeGoesOn. "With some sadness, I have decided not to submit my name for the upcoming Conservative group elections," it read.

"That means, soon, I shall cease to be leader of South Oxfordshire District Council.

"It has been a huge honour to lead my district council and I am enormously proud of the way our staff have handled the challenges thrown at them: the office fire; the Garden Town in Didcot; a local plan with people at its heart - all while delivering top quality services with shrinking budgets and making South Oxfordshire one of the best places to be in the country."

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