The terms of reference of the Panel state:
Members of the public may address meetings of the Scrutiny Panel, where notice is given to the secretariat no later than 4.00pm on the last working day before the day of the meeting.
The Chair will have discretion to manage the public participation procedure as they see appropriate, including rejecting frivolous, defamatory or offensive questions and managing the time afforded to public addresses.
Notice of a wish to address the meeting, including the subject of the address or the full question to be asked, must be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org by 4.00pm on Wednesday 29 May 2019.
The Chair’s decision will be final.
The Panel heard one statement and two questions from members of the public.
Daniel Scharf MRTPI, gave the following statement:
I would like to request that the Growth Board declare a “Climate and Environmental Emergency” to bring it into line with the Committee on Climate Change recommendation of a 'zero carbon economy', and the resolution of both Parliament and constituent councils (e.g. South Oxfordshire, Vale of White Horse, Oxford City and Oxfordshire County), with the stated intention that this would frame and inform all its future operations and decisions?
The ‘declaration’ would be a marker for the Growth Board to commission work on how its preoccupation with economic growth could be made consistent with the need to reduce carbon emissions in very short order (i.e. heading for zero by 2030) and reverse the collapse of biodiversity due to operations within the County, and through impacts elsewhere associated with its activities. For the operation of the Growth Board to succeed, there needs to be a high level of trust by the public in the land use planning system, beginning with ensuring that growth does not take place at the expense of the environment.
On the issue of transport, a very clear example of how trust has broken down is the proposal to build an Expressway between Oxford and Cambridge. The construction of a new road, to enable 1 million car dependent houses to be built along a 'corridor' of movement, implies an increase in carbon emissions during a period when these must be eliminated. The National Infrastructure Commission, (NIC) has itself stated that new road building is a spur to the growth of car/freight traffic (see Congestion, capacity and carbon 2017), and it has no evidence regarding the impact of electrification or automation of road traffic, it has no evidence that the road would not prejudice the completion of the rail link (i.e. make it less likely and/or less viable), or add to the traffic and congestion on the A34 (and other feeder roads along its length and at either end). The manufacturing of new electric vehicles and batteries will mean that electrification of the road system will not result in a significant reduction in net carbon, without there being significantly less vehicles and, therefore, no need for new roads. It will be hard to trust in promises of biodiversity gains.
Incidentally, Oxford Economics have been appointed by HM Government to assist with the Expressway and have previously explained (the Redfern Review) that new housebuilding will not reduce house prices more than a few percent.
On housing, the National House Building Council (NHBC), the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) have all accepted that about half the carbon associated with new housing is embodied in the building and associated infrastructure at practical completion and before occupation. In these circumstances, the Growth Board should not be proposing any new housing without taking measures to ensure that 'embodied carbon' is taken fully into account to ensure that the housing, employment and associated infrastructure will approach net zero emissions. This implies a moratorium on the use of concrete and masonry until the climate emergency is over, and meeting housing needs by concentrating on carbon negative materials and reducing the levels of under-occupation of the existing housing stock through incentivizing sub-divisions. 50% of houses in Oxford City have one and, more often, two spare bedrooms. Outside the City the number is closer to 80%.
Sue Haywood on behalf of Need Not Greed Oxfordshire, (NNGO) asked the following question:
NNGO took part in the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 engagement exercise last Friday. The opportunity for such an exercise was welcome, and there were a number of positives, including confirmation that there are a number of good people involved in the project who are trying to do good things. However, it was hard to not come away with some lingering concerns, mainly regarding the erosion of meaningful locally elected member voice, mandate and accountability in the processes and to what degree other strategies will predetermine the Plan that Oxfordshire can develop. I apologise if I am repeating some of the questions posed to you at the last Scrutiny Panel meeting but hope you agree they are still relevant.
The Oxfordshire Local Industrial Strategy, (LIS)
The Oxfordshire LIS has not been subject to local authority debate, public consultation or environmental assessment and yet, if endorsed by government (which could be in June or July), it could pre-determine the outcome of the Oxfordshire Plan 2050. The NPPF clearly states that planning policies must ‘have regard’ for Local Industrial Strategies. Thus, if the Oxfordshire LIS is approved before the proposed summer Oxfordshire Plan 2050 consultation has even taken place, surely it will make any local member voice or public consultation moot? We would ask if you share our concerns with this and can Scrutiny ask the Growth Board to commit to informing HM Government - with urgency - that the LIS must go through the formal local authority sign off process prior to final endorsement?
I previously noted our concern that The Joint Declaration of Ambition between HM Government and Local Partners did not appear to have had much, if any, sharing of information or debate in some local councils. We would, therefore, ask again on whose mandate was it that council leaders signed that Joint Declaration? And what provision is being made to ensure that there is opportunity in future for council leaders to be provided with guidance and mandate from local members for their decision making in their roles on Arc committees? I ask this in the additional context of statements in the Joint Declaration that imply that there will be yet further changes in process and governance that could affect local accountability and influence in decision-making.
Probity of Process
Our recollection is that, at the last Growth Board meeting, your Chair challenged the material differences that had been introduced into the Oxfordshire Plan document used in the consultation earlier this year from the draft that had been signed off by local Councils. The Growth Board has not to my knowledge responded on that point, nor has it been minuted, and we would ask if you are confident that the processes in place are sufficient to a) reflect and respect council decisions, and also b) recognise and respect challenge from the Scrutiny Panel?
Climate emergency and biodiversity loss
The LIS and Arc strategies that are likely to be accommodated in the Oxfordshire Plan hinge on the premise of housing growth at a scale that is above natural growth and the building a (very large) road. Your Panel has previously pressed for climate change to be considered in the Oxfordshire Plan Vision and priorities. How do you intend to continue your welcome challenge on this, and other important issues such as biodiversity loss, and how can you encourage and support the Growth Board to review its processes to embrace sustainability more meaningfully in the heart of decision making?
Affordable and Social Housing
We welcome Scrutiny's interest in Affordable Housing and the report on its agenda this evening. We would also welcome a debate and focus on the types of affordable housing, and most particularly on social housing and the role this could, and should, play in meeting Oxfordshire's needs. Do Scrutiny members have a view on this please?
Helen Marshal on behalf of Campaign to Protect Rural England, (CPRE) asked the following question:
At the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 Stakeholder Forum held last Friday, the Oxfordshire Plan team appeared unable, or possibly unwilling, to answer the following question:
“Has an update to the Oxfordshire SHMA 2014 and/or an Oxford Green Belt Review been commissioned and, if so, will the Terms of Reference be made publicly available and when will the report/s be published?”
Can the Scrutiny Panel help shed any light?
In discussion about the issues raised the Scrutiny Panel commented:
· That it recognised many of the issues and concerns expressed within the statement and questions submitted.
· Many of the comments regarding climate emergency and a zero-carbon economy had been captured by the Panel as part of its response to the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 consultation.
· Issues around the accountability of the Oxfordshire LIS and Ox-Cam and probity of the Oxfordshire Plan document would be taken into account by the Scrutiny Panel in formulating its recommendations to the Oxfordshire Growth Board on 4 June.