Members of the public may ask questions of the Chairman of the Growth Board, or address the Growth Board on any substantive item at a meeting, subject to the restrictions set out in the public participation scheme.
The total amount of time allowed for public participation at a meeting shall not exceed 30 minutes, unless the Chairman consents to extend that time in the interests of the proper conduct of the business of the Growth Board.
A person speaking to the Growth Board may speak for up to three minutes. Board members may ask questions for clarification.
Asking a question
Questions (in full and in writing) must be received by 5pm on three clear working days before the Growth Board meeting. A written or verbal answer will be provided by the Chairman at the meeting. The questioner may ask a supplementary question directly related to either the original question or the reply received.
Addressing the Board
Notice of a wish to address the Growth Board by making a statement must be received by 12 noon on the working day before the Growth Board meeting.
Petitions on matters directly relevant to matters in which the Growth Board has powers and duties must be received by 5pm three clear working days before the Growth Board meeting. The representative of the petitioners may speak. Petitions are referred without discussion to the next meeting.
Questions, petitions and notice of addresses must be submitted to email@example.com or delivered/posted to Democratic Services, South Oxfordshire District Council, 135 Eastern Avenue, Milton Park, Milton, OX14 4SB.
The Growth Board received one public question and four public addresses.
1. Daniel Scharf MRTPI
Homes England is the HM Government’s housing accelerator and attends the Oxfordshire Growth Board.
Homes 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?
In reply, the Chair read out a response prepared by Homes England.
‘Homes England are committed to working with the sector to deliver on HM Government’s target of net zero emissions by 2050 and ensure new homes are fit for the future. There are a number of emerging Government policies which would help achieve this aim, such as the development of a Future Homes Standard by 2025 and an uplift in part L of building regulations in 2020. The agency is currently looking at what else we can do to support this issue, engaging with experts in this field such as the Green Building Council and HM Government’s Committee for Climate Change. In addition to the reduction of carbon, the agency is also keen to find practical opportunities to support other areas of environmental sustainability such as biodiversity net gain and the development of onsite sustainable energysystems. Our work around modern methods of construction, in particular, offers opportunities to consider new ways of building the homes we need in a more productive and less carbon intensive way. There is more work to be done here, but we recognise the importance of this issue and are working hard to identify further opportunities to support this agenda’.
The Chair indicated that she felt that action did need to be taken on the issue. At her invitation, Catherine Turner, representing Homes England, added that it was recognised that more work did need to be undertaken. Nevertheless, the agency was taking on board opportunities for learning.
1. Martin Lipson on behalf of the Oxfordshire Neighbourhood Plans Alliance.
I would like to introduce the members of the Growth Board to our new organisation, the Oxfordshire Neighbourhood Plans Alliance, formed earlier this month to represent neighbourhood plans in the county of Oxfordshire.
Neighbourhood plans involve about three to four years of hard work by volunteers, closely engaging the local communities we represent. Many of us are parish councillors, but only a few have training in planning. What we do have, though, is a very clear mandate from our communities, because all the policies - rigorously tested by independent experts, and ultimately by an Examiner – have emanated from the aspirations of each community. Each plan has been put to Referendum, with the entire electorate entitled to vote. The average percentage vote in favour of adopting our plans is nearly 90%.
I am explaining this because we think the Growth Board members should understand why the members of our organisation feel so passionately about planning for growth in Oxfordshire. Not only have we put in vast numbers of hours in order to produce our plans, but we also feel very strongly that, as part of the formal Development Plans for each of the five Oxfordshire Districts, we have a right to expect the policies in our plans to be applied with equal weight alongside the planning policies of District, County and NPPF. There is a danger that a focus solely on growth will shift that planning balance away from the aspirations of local communities.
We, therefore, welcome the decision to undertake the Review which is on today’s agenda. It is clear that one of its aims is to satisfy a demand that the work of the Board be more transparent. This can be achieved by including input from the many communities which will be affected by growth in the County. The rigorous process that our 33 statutory neighbourhood plans have been through is an ideal platform from which to build improved accountability for the Growth Board. 123,000 people are represented by those 33 “made” plans alone - nearly 20% of the population of the County. Many more thousands are involved with 30 other neighbourhood plans in the pipeline across the County. By involving our organisation, you can not only take an important step towards making the process more democratic, but you can also implement your statutory responsibility to take seriously all the work we have done, ensuring that the detailed knowledge of local people adds significantly to the quality of planning in the County.
We have met with the Growth Board Director, and we are meeting him again next month. We would like the Board to give its approval for him to discuss with us how Neighbourhood Plans in Oxfordshire can have proper involvement in the Board’s work, and in particular in the development of Oxfordshire 2050. We do not expect to be merely consultees or stakeholders. We expect to be involved in the work, and we look forward to your response in due course as to how that might happen.
In response the Chair commented that the Growth Board was aware of the issues raised by Mr Lipson and these would be considered in the future as part of the Growth Board review.
2. Sue Haywood on behalf of Need Not Greed Oxfordshire
Need Not Greed Oxfordshire welcomes the proposed extension of the Oxfordshire 2050 Plan timetable. We trust this will create space for improved engagement with local communities and the establishment of a robust environmental evidence base.
We also welcome the proposed review of the Growth Board. However, we ask if the scope of the Review could consider the mandate of members appointed to the Growth Board, its sub-bodies, and to externally linked programmes and projects, and the degree to which they can make decisions or endorse strategies without further recourse.
For example, the Joint Declaration of Ambition, defining the “direction of travel” for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc programme, was signed up to by Leaders, but with no visible mandate or awareness by other councillors. This potentially severely compromises the opportunity for local members and the Growth Board to subsequently challenge the strategy. Likewise, the Local Industrial Strategy was developed without locally elected member input. It is perhaps shocking to note that the words “farming” and “rural economy” are used once only each in the 100-page document about one of the most rural counties in the South East. It is statutory to consider and accommodate LIS targets in strategic planning and this will have a significant impact on the parameters for the scale and nature of growth Oxfordshire can consider.
Furthermore, the perception that these external projects have had mandated local authority input and endorsement, either directly or via the Growth Board’s actions, is misleading and dangerous. Subsequent consultations and decision-making – not only for the 2050 Plan but also within and between these other programmes - will be influenced and skewed by such erroneous assumptions of local member scrutiny and endorsement.
Better communication about how these projects integrate with each other is also needed. The Growth Board’s own reports acknowledge that these external linked projects will have a major impact on the 2050 Plan, yet the risks and details for this are often not qualified.
We accept that the scope of the Review cannot include the external linked projects per se, but we ask if the interface between these projects and the Growth Board, and the 2050 Plan, could be urgently reviewed and every opportunity taken to ensure that local authorities have a meaningful (and mandated) input at the earliest stages of strategic planning, as well as a full and appropriate understanding of the implications of these projects on Oxfordshire’s own planning and other priorities.
Finally, we would like the Review to consider how the environment can be embedded at all levels of the Growth Board’s activity, including sub-groups. Having met yesterday with Defra officials, we suspect they thought this was already in place, but sadly we had to report that this was not so. Given that it would be entirely in line with the ambitions of HM Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and climate change commitments, we ask the Growth Board to consider inclusion of an environmental specialist or champion at all relevant levels, including voting membership on the Board.
In response, the Chair referred to review of the Growth Board which was due to commence, and which would consider the type of issues referred to in the address.
3. Councillor Ian Middleton, Cherwell District Council
As someone who is very concerned about how Oxfordshire is represented by an un-elected body wielding far more influence than it will admit to, I very much welcome the imminent review of the roles of the Growth Board. In my view, the board’s claim to democratic accountability, that it’s made up of the leaders of local government bodies, is a somewhat reductionist interpretation of democracy.
Many people see you as a self-appointed group, independently predetermining policy that local councils then just go on to rubber stamp. That isn’t democracy, it’s government by quango. That needs to be addressed both in terms of perception and outcome.
you to facilitate broader representation, perhaps by direct election of additional board members by public vote or random selection, as with a citizen’s assembly. I suggested this to the Oxfordshire Growth Board scrutiny panel last week and there seemed to be some support. I’d also like to see wider cross-party and non-partisan membership of the board.
It’s also encouraging that you want to be more focussed on environmental issues. But if you’re going to tackle climate change, you have to step away from what Greta Thunberg described yesterday as “the fairy-tale of eternal economic growth”.
I was pleased to see that the scrutiny panel also passed a motion criticising the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway. I hope you’ll adopt that motion and signal to HM Government that building more massive motorways is incompatible with zero net carbon targets.
The term ‘sustainable growth’ is an oxymoron. Continuing to push growth in an already oversubscribed area like Oxfordshire is the epitome of climate change denial. The board’s questionable ‘working assumption’ of Oxford’s unmet housing need and the associated encouragement of greenbelt erosion is a perfect example of this.
Green areas 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. Building unneeded houses also adds unnecessarily to the net carbon burden. Oxford’s projected housing figures have been criticised as an over-estimate by both the planning inspectorate and several planning consultants, including one commissioned by the city council itself. By implication this also throws doubt on the ‘working assumption’.
In view of the questions surrounding Oxford’s local plan, and with their public examination only 2 months away, it’s vital that you urgently and transparently re-examine these assumptions, and if they’re found to be wrong, signal local councils that they should reconsider their own plans before unnecessary and irreversible damage is done to vital green infrastructure.
These are the difficult decisions that can no longer be avoided if we’re serious about tackling climate change. How seriously you take that responsibility will be apparent by how you act now.
At the invitation of the Chair, several members of the Growth Board made comments in response to the address.
Councillor Brown commented that in respect of Oxford City’s unmet housing need, this figure had been through a formal statutory planning process and had been upheld on three occasions. It would be further considered as part of the enquiry into the Oxford City Local Plan to be undertaken by the Planning Inspectorate. She commented that there was significant unmet housing need within Oxford which represented real need which needed to be addressed.
Councillor Wood commented that the use of word ‘Board’ in the Growth’s Board’s title had unfortunately led to a misunderstanding that it was key decision making entity whereas the true position was that it was a partnership of the willing which was seeking to find a way for the Oxfordshire local authorities to work together for the benefit of all. The use and preference by HM Government for the use of the term had not helped, but no other similar ‘boards’ had directly elected representatives. He hoped this could be considered as part of the Growth Board review along with seeking clarity on what the Board did and did not do.
Councillor Ian Hudspeth commented that an issue constantly raised on the doorstep to him was where future generations would live and therefore the Growth Board had a responsibility to take on board and consider housing need as a real problem.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to express my deep concern over the decision, emailed to me by Robert Freshwater (Oxfordshire County Council) on September 19 that the LEP was withdrawing the funding, match funded by the North Oxford City Deal, to the A40/A44 Loop Farm Link Road.
Many of you will be aware that my division traverses the A40 and I have spoken to you on two previous occasions over my heartfelt concerns over the fruitless plans for the bus lanes, (the A40 Park and Ride HiF 1 and 2) and that those concerns are mirrored by the vast majority of my residents in Eynsham and area. It was vital in our view that this link road and the improvements to/smart carding of Swinford Toll bridge should be made forthwith- indeed they should have been done some years ago.
I am very frustrated by the LEP’s latest decision- this link road would have been an important connection in access from the A40 to roads north (A40/A34/ in particular and thereon to M1) without adding to the existing traffic jams on the Northern bypass (Cuttleslowe and Wolvercote roundabouts).
Without repeating myself, this link road I have been constantly assured was going to happen- now the funding has been withdrawn without consultation or local discussion or an explanation of why or what priority the money will be used for instead. Is this acceptable?
I would request that this decision is revisited urgently in the interests of local residents and those travelling the A40 from further afield. Maybe you, therefore, would be kind enough to listen to local opinion before making unilateral decisions on major infrastructure matters?
The Chair indicated she had attended a public consultation event regarding the issue and was, therefore, aware of the strength of public opinion around the issues.
As this was not specifically a Growth Board decision, Jeremey Long, Chair of OxLEP, indicated that a direct written response would be provided by OxLEP direct to Councillor Mathew.