To receive any questions or statements from members of the public that have registered to speak.
A. The following question was submitted by Need Not Greed Oxfordshire (NNGO) and circulated to all councillors prior to the meeting. No representative was in attendance to ask the question.
Following the demise of the Oxfordshire Plan, each Council is now assessing its own housing numbers but, as we know, decisions taken by Oxford City are likely to have significant ramifications for the surrounding Districts. A high level of due diligence over the process is therefore required.
Our understanding is that Oxford City Council is proposing to use an alternative method to calculate (and thereby increase) its housing “need”. The City's housing figures are being prepared by the same consultants who prepared the original Oxfordshire Growth Needs Assessment. We believe they will almost certainly be inflated by overly optimistic economic growth projections and substantial affordable housing uplifts and will not align with what most of us understand to be actual housing need. And this is being proposed by the City in the full knowledge that it will be looking to the District Councils to provide the housing for this unmet "need".
Need not Greed Oxfordshire would therefore like to ask the South Oxfordshire District Council whether:
1. It is supportive of Oxford City’s proposal to use an alternative method to calculate (and to thereby increase) its housing “need”?
2. It intends to cooperate with Oxford City Council by agreeing to meet its unmet housing, even when this does not represent need as assessed by the Standard Method?
3. It agrees it would be beneficial for the City to use different consultants from those used to prepare the Oxfordshire Growth Needs Assessment which was widely regarded as not fit for purpose?
4. It agrees that, in order to avoid conflicts of interest, it would be wise for each of the Oxfordshire Local Authorities to avoid the use of housing market assessment consultants who receive substantial amounts of their income from developers?
Councillor David Rouane, Leader of the council, provided the following response.
Q1. It is supportive of Oxford City’s proposal to use an alternative method to calculate (and to thereby increase) its housing “need”?
The Government’s Planning Practice Guidance sets out “there is an expectation that the standard method will be used, and that any other method will be used only in exceptional circumstances”. To use an alternative method, the City Council must demonstrate that such exceptional circumstances exist. As we set out in our recent response to Oxford’s Local Plan consultation, the situation has changed significantly since the last round of local plans meaning that the original exceptional circumstances would not continue to justify a departure from the standard method. In our view Oxford City has not yet demonstrated that the exceptional circumstances threshold is met to justify a departure from the standard method, so we would expect need to be calculated using the Standard Method.
South Oxfordshire District Council’s response to the Oxford City Local Plan consultation, November 2022, is available on our website at https://www.southoxon.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2022/11/South-response-letter-to-Oxford-Local-Plan-FINAL.pdf
Q2. It intends to cooperate with Oxford City Council by agreeing to meet its unmet housing, even when this does not represent need as assessed by the Standard Method?
It is too early in the plan-making processes to make this determination. Oxford City Council has not completed its new housing need evidence nor made a formal request to this Council around taking further unmet housing need. South Oxfordshire has already made a significant contribution to Oxford’s unmet needs, taking 4,950 homes for Oxford in our local plan which was adopted in 2020. We responded to Oxford’s statement in their recent preferred options consultation that “Oxford can never meet its full housing need” by pointing out that we consider this premature and unambitious, an unhelpful predetermination prior to collection of necessary evidence.
We have pointed out that the City Council has had the opportunity to provide significant numbers of homes on a number of sites that have become available for redevelopment in recent years but have chosen to not build homes on those sites.
Q3. It agrees it would be beneficial for the City to use different consultants from those used to prepare the Oxfordshire Growth Needs Assessment which was widely regarded as not fit for purpose?
We have no influence over the City’s choice of consultants and make no comment on this.
Q4. It agrees that, in order to avoid conflicts of interest, it would be wise for each of the Oxfordshire Local Authorities to avoid the use of housing market assessment consultants who receive substantial amounts of their income from developers?
Avoiding conflicts of interest when appointing consultants is a matter for individual local authorities to determine via their procurement process.
B. Councillor John Gilbert addressed Council on behalf of Tetsworth Parish Council and neighbouring parish councils (Aston Rowant, Great Milton, Great Haseley and Lewknor) seeking policy changes as part of the development of the Joint Local Plan in respect of large-scale solar farms. Mr Gilbert stated that, whilst there was support for the national and local climate mitigation initiatives including the development of solar farms, the current approval of developments demonstrated a policy deficit. Permissions were being granted irrespective of the cumulative environmental impact on rural communities and the loss of productive agricultural land. He stressed the need for a spatial strategy to direct solar power generation to new build commercial and domestic developments and to brownfield sites.
The Chair of Council thanked Mr Gilbert for his statement and confirmed that his supporting documents would be passed to the relevant councillors and officers.