Inspector backs increased 275 ha green belt release to approve Cherwell plan

A planning inspector has formally approved a local plan review in Oxfordshire after the council agreed to increase the amount of land proposed for removal from the green belt from 253 to 275 hectares.

Bicester Village in Cherwell district. Image: Flickr / Dr Bob Hall
Bicester Village in Cherwell district. Image: Flickr / Dr Bob Hall

Cherwell District Council embarked on a review of its local plan shortly after its adoption in 2015 to accommodate unmet need for 4,400 homes in the Oxfordshire housing market area.

In a submission draft local plan review submitted in 2018, Cherwell proposed accommodating the homes on seven sites across the district.

However, inspector Paul Griffiths advised last year that a non-green-belt site allocation for 410 homes at land south east of the town of Woodstock should be removed, expressing “fundamental concern about the separation between the proposed allocation and Oxford itself”. 

The inspector has now found the plan to be sound subject to the council's agreed modifications.

In his report, Griffiths agreed with the council’s plan to distribute the 410 homes across five of the six remaining site allocations - even though many would be allocated on green belt land.

“While I acknowledge that this involves further green belt releases, exceptional circumstances have been made out for them,” he said, describing the council’s approach as “justified and effective”.

The chances mean the amount of green belt land allocated for development has increased from 253 hectares to 275 hectares.

Under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), green belt release through local plans can only be justified in "exceptional circumstances". 

The inspector wrote: "Chief amongst these is the obvious and pressing need to provide open-market and affordable homes for Oxford; a need that Oxford cannot meet itself."

He went on to say: "There is a simple and inescapable logic behind meeting Oxford’s open market and affordable needs in locations as close as possible to the city, on the existing A44/A4260 transport corridor, with resulting travel patterns that would minimise the length of journeys into the city, and not be reliant on the private car.

"On top of that, existing relationships with the city would be nurtured.

"Finally, this approach is least likely to interfere with Cherwell’s own significant housing commitments set out in the Local Plan 2015."

The report said the reduction in green belt would come to 3.3 per cent of the district's total green belt area, while the proportion of Cherwell that lies within the green belt would fall to 13.8 per cent from 14.3 per cent.

Campaign groups including CPRE Oxfordshire and Planning Oxfordshire's Environment and Transport Sustainably (POETS) had opposed the release of green belt land and questioned the suitability of the council’s site allocations.

In a statement published after the inspector published his decision on the plan, CPRE Oxfordshire said: “We stand by our view that the housing numbers are exaggerated and that the focus should be on providing genuinely affordable housing that meets local need, not executive housing at a distance from the city centre.”

It added that the "housing densities proposed are absurdly low and will squander green belt for the profit of private developers".  

In his decision letter, the inspector acknowledged that concerns had been raised about the way Oxford’s unmet housing need had been calculated.

However, he concluded that the figures represented “a robust basis for the plan” and expressed his “firm conclusion that the exceptional circumstances necessary to justify the alterations proposed to green belt boundaries have been demonstrated”.

The inspector also found that the plan met the legal duty to cooperate. 

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Sign up now
Already registered?
Sign in

Join the conversation with PlanningResource on social media

Follow Us:
Planning Jobs