This report sets out the context of a proposal to seek the Growth Board’s endorsement of a revised work programme and timetable for the Oxfordshire Plan 2050.
The Panel considered a report to the Growth Board presented by Rachel Williams, Oxfordshire Plan Lead, and Giles Hughes, Chief Executive of West Oxfordshire District Council, on the progress of producing the Oxfordshire Plan 2050. It set out the work done to date, the next steps, and provided programme and timing information. The Panel was also referred to the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 update within the Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal Progress Report Quarter 1.
The Panel noted that:
· The task of producing a single, statutory spatial plan for the whole of Oxfordshire was a complex and challenging task. Nevertheless, a great deal of progress had already been achieved.
· The Oxfordshire Plan 2050 was a new type of plan. This meant that there were few examples of best practice to follow and of the individual approval decisions required by each of the partner councils at the different stages of the programme. The Oxfordshire Plan would require an examination in public.
· A revised programme had been produced, with the adoption of the plan now expected in March 2022 – an increase of one year to the project timeline. This would give the opportunity for further consultation and engagement. In addition, it would allow for collaboration with other projects that would have a bearing on the Oxfordshire Plan 2050.
· Agreement to the revised programme would be required from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG)
The Panel noted in the update and their discussion:
· The Panel queried the effect of the revised programme on other dates and milestones in the Growth Deal, and whether seeking to extend the date of the adoption of the Oxfordshire Plan might open up other areas of the deal – for instance if a Local Plan was withdrawn and resubmitted. It was noted that the Growth Deal had required the submission of individual district council local plans by April 2019. The Oxfordshire view was this requirement had been met and there was no impact on further milestones in the deal relating to local plans, but HM Government would come to its own view on that.
· The Panel expressed concern that there was a risk it would not be possible to stick to a timeline if several vital components were not in place;
· It was acknowledged that the process and weight of the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 mirrored the process followed in the adoption of local plans. At the point of submission, therefore, the Plan would be considered to have formal weight in respect of decisions on individual planning applications.
· It was a strength of the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 project that decisions on issues such as levels of annualised growth were decided collectively.
· That a particular issue facing the development of the Plan was that the programme did not align with that of the proposed Oxford to Cambridge Expressway. The Panel queried whether the extension of the Plan programme had made this challenge easier to overcome. It was noted that the proposed extension would assist in overcoming this difficulty by allowing for more details of the Expressway project to emerge.
· The overall scope of the Plan project had not changed as a result of the extension of the timeline. There would, however, be an impact upon staff time and, therefore, costs. While more detailed work to fully assess these implications was needed, the intention was to try to keep as much as possible within the parameters of the existing Growth Deal.
Following further discussion, the Scrutiny Panel resolved to recommend that:
1) The Growth Board reflect on the implications of the revision in Oxon Plan 2050 timelines would have on the future work for Local Plans;
2) The Growth Board consider the implications of the revised timelines on staffing and study (research) costs;
3) The Growth Board acknowledge that the revised timetable would help Ox - Cam expressway project and use this opportunity to help align it with Local Plans.