South Oxfordshire local plan faces review following post-election change in control

An Oxfordshire council's tumultuous local plan process has been thrown into disarray after local elections earlier this month saw the local Conservatives lose control of the authority to a Liberal Democrat-led group that plans to review the document's proposed housing numbers.

South Oxfordshire Council: local plan uncertainty
South Oxfordshire Council: local plan uncertainty

South Oxfordshire District Council's local plan was submitted for examination just weeks ago after a series of delays caused by disagreements between Conservative members over site allocations and housing targets.

This prompted the early departure of former council leader John Cotton and the suspension of five other councillors who voted against its submission.

Following local elections earlier this month, Liberal Democrats now represent the largest group within the council and look set to form a coalition with Green Party and independent councillors to run the authority with a slim majority.

Sue Cooper, a Liberal Democrat councillor likely to be named leader at a meeting later today, told Planning that a group would be established to review the plan with a view to assessing whether the proposed level of growth in the document is necessary.

The submitted plan proposes delivery of of 22,775 new homes up to 2033 and allocates 37.5 hectares of employment land.

Former South Oxfordshire Council leader Jane Murphy, who led the Conservatives into the recent elections and is one of the party’s 10 remaining councillors, was responsible for securing agreement for the plan.

Murphy said in December last year: "It’s vital we have a sound plan that has the best chance of being approved by a planning inspector."

Asked whether the level of growth currently proposed is necessary for the plan to be found sound, Cooper said: "I totally disagree. My big problem with their plan is it was based on totally out of date data," she said.

Cooper suggested the evidence base may need to be revisited. "My impression of the planning system is that anything more than five years old is deemed to be out of date. The strategic housing market assessment was done in 2014, so how old is their data?"

She added that work on the review is unlikely to start before it can be approved at a full council meeting scheduled for mid-July.

"You will appreciate we’ve got lots of new councillors, a lot of whom were elected on the local dislike of the plan," she said.

"I’m very anxious that they should be well briefed on what the local plan is, all the hoops it has to jump through, where we’ve got to, and so on."

A decision to withdraw the local plan from examination could cast doubt on a £215 million housing growth deal agreed between central government and the six Oxfordshire councils. Under the terms of the deal, all local plans in the county were to be submitted by April 2019.

A Planning analysis looking at the impacts of the local elections can be read here. 

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