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 18 September 2019.
The Chair’s decision will be final.
The Panel heard one public statement and two questions from members of the public.
Daniel Scharf MRTPI, had submitted the following statement which was noted in his absence:
Homes England is the Government’s housing accelerator and attends the Oxfordshire Growth Board.
Home England is committed to the building of sustainable housing (advice from the Home England Policy Analyst – Strategy, Performance & Delivery Unit). Given that the carbon embodied in the housing built just last year was at 30x (thirty times) the level necessary to reach net zero carbon, what measures will be taken to ensure that all new housing will now only be permitted to be constructed in ways that ensure this target will be met?
Councillor Ian Middleton, Cherwell District Council asked the following questions:
I very much welcome the imminent review of the roles of the Growth Board, however I am concerned about how the consultation will be handled. There’s little information about how widely the review will be publicised and it seems the public and councillors will to have actively ‘apply’ to take part in the consultation rather than be invited. Phrases such as “first come first served” also suggest a degree of limitation. I’d be grateful for some clarification on this.
I’m also encouraged that the Board is now receiving more scrutiny, but I’m still concerned about how effectively Oxfordshire is represented by a body that is not directly elected and wields far more influence than it appears to admit to.
The Board’s claim to democratic accountability is that it is made up of the elected leaders of various local government bodies in Oxfordshire, but that’s a somewhat reductionist interpretation of democracy.
Moreover, the dominance of any one party across member councils leads to a position whereby the collective decisions of the Board become county-wide policy by default.
I would, therefore, urge you to seek further democratic involvement perhaps by direct election of additional members of the Board by public vote – by allowing members of the public to sit on the Board via random selection (as with a people’s assembly), and by ensuring more cross-party representation on the Board and the Scrutiny Panel.
It’s also encouraging for me as a Green to see that the Board plans to take more account of climate change issues. With several councils in Oxfordshire recognising the climate emergency, we should no longer be pursuing growth for its own sake, but currently this seems to be the main function of the Board.
I think instead the Board should become more of a curator and moderator of organic growth, rather than a stimulator of extra growth. It’s arguable that further expansion in an already oversubscribed area like Oxfordshire should be controlled rather than encouraged.
The impact of the Board on the local environment is evidenced by its stimulation of housing expansion, most recently to help meet Oxford’s projected un-met housing need.
As you know, this resulted in a so-called ‘working assumption’ of need that has been used by all district councils to develop or review local plans, in turn putting extensive areas of green belt under threat.
Green spaces have a vital role in sequestrating carbon and reducing climate change. Their replacement by housing, roads, car parks etc has a direct impact on the environment, in terms of loss of habitat, carbon sinking capability and increased emissions.
Oxford’s housing figures have been criticised as an over-estimate by both the planning inspectorate and other planning consultants (including one commissioned by the city council itself). By implication this also throws doubt on the ‘working assumption.
When the assumption was arrived at, it was promised that it would be subject to review as new evidence became available, and of course the only way to be absolutely sure of the numbers would be for Oxford’s local plan to be tested and agreed.
In view of the questions surrounding the ‘working assumption’, and with the Oxford plan examination only 2 months away, will the Board now commit to re-examine the working assumption, and if it’s found to be an over-estimate, signal local councils that they should also reconsider their own plans before unnecessary and irreversible damage is done to vital green infrastructure?’
Sue Haywood on behalf of Need not Greed Oxfordshire, (NNGO) asked the following question:
Need Not Greed Oxfordshire welcomes the proposed review of Growth Board processes, especially with regards to governance & transparency.
We ask Scrutiny Panel to ensure that this includes consideration of the mandate of members appointed to the Growth Board and its sub-bodies.
For example, we note that the Growth Board did not agree to the Panel’s recommendation that it should clarify how the Joint Declaration of Ambition (for the Oxford Cambridge Arc) would be subject to public scrutiny and debate.
Specifically, the response says the support came from the Leaders and there will be no public scrutiny of that particular support.
However, it is a fact that the Leaders of each Council signed the Joint Declaration of Ambition about the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, alongside four Cabinet Ministers, on behalf of their local authorities, but without local councillors being aware of that Declaration's content nor even, in some cases, of the existence of such a document.
Any subsequent debate on the merits, purpose and direction of the Arc has, therefore, already been compromised.
The consultation mentioned in the Growth Board’s response to Scrutiny, due to take place over this summer/autumn, has also apparently vanished without trace.
The Director of the Oxfordshire Growth Board (Update for 24 Sept meeting) acknowledges that linked projects such as the Arc and the Local Industrial Strategy will need to be taken into account in the Oxfordshire Plan 2050.
This means that it is vital that the mandate for those representing Oxfordshire’s local authorities on these projects is clearly defined and understood, especially at the earlier strategic decision-making points.
In discussion about the issues raised the Scrutiny Panel commented:
· That in relation to Councillor Middleton’s remarks about the potential role of the Growth Board in moderating growth, there needed to be consideration of the current consumption of resources and production of carbon. This would require a baseline knowledge (for example, the carbon emitted in the production of concrete), which could then be compared to alternative construction materials. It was suggested that HM Government data could be used to facilitate this.
· That there was support for more democratic engagement within the Growth Board.
The Chair stated that the issues raised by the public, and the comments of the Panel in discussion, could be taken into consideration in the course of the meeting.