Update from SPADE

Tuesday, 08 March 2016

Since the last Scene, SPADE has been very busy preparing for the Examination in Public (EIP) of the Vale District Council Local plan to 2031. We made submissions on a number of issues including housing site locations in the Green Belt (GB) and particularly the soundness of the GB policy (or in our view, lack of policy…). We were invited to participate in the EIP at the session on the GB, which we did on 3rd February, representing both SPADE and the Parish Council. We attended alongside CPRE and other local campaign groups with whom we have been working closely in the run up to the Examination.

It’s quite unusual for so many local groups to be invited to participate in an EIP and we were impressed by the way the Inspector Mr Rivett allowed us all a good hearing, to the obvious irritation of many of the developers in the room! SPADE’s main point was that we are concerned that the so-called “policy” on the GB is very weak. The policy wording promises no protection or enhancement of the GB – rather it states all the sorts of development that WILL be permitted within the GB. We think this and other policies in the plan reflect a cultural indifference in the Vale D.C. bordering on contempt for the GB and those who support its preservation. The Vale proposes to remove from the GB, 4 strategic sites around Abingdon for at least 1510 houses. They are then proposing to remove another 24 sites from the GB across the northern Vale area but it is not entirely clear for what purpose. The Vale’s rationale is that these sites “no longer meet the purposes of GB” and they have the power to remove these parcels of land, so why not? The Inspector did get them to admit in the hearing that all the sites did meet at least one (and in some cases more) of the purposes, and he asked them what was the point of removing them. Answer came there none. Whilst still unclear, it appears they are earmarked for meeting the remainder of Vale’s own housing numbers and the Vale’s share of Oxford’s unmet need, currently estimated between 3000-4000.
Our worry is that by removing these sites from the GB, they become prime targets for developers in 5 years’ time, if the Vale does not meet its “housing land supply” target. Our view is, if they are not released from the GB for a specific purpose, they should not be released at all.
This map (which can be found in the EIP document library on the Vale website at the link below) was submitted to the Inspector by the Vale D.C. showing the extent of the removals from the GB in this area.
Bear in mind, that this is only the GB removals for the Vale local plan: it doesn’t include the Park and Ride, nor the Lorry Park, nor the Driver facilities nor the Lodge Hill Junction, nor the potential Oxford-Cambridge expressway. This was another point we made to the Inspector – nobody is looking at GB releases in a holistic way. This would show an even greater impact on the GB in North Abingdon than just looking at the Vale local plan housing proposals. Sadly, that is not in his gift, but we made the point.

Planning for Real NEED not Speculator GREED in Oxfordshire
SPADE is a founder member of the new Need not Greed Coalition. As a result of our experience of the County and District Planning processes, we have joined with CPRE and other local campaign groups from across the county to call for a challenge to the county’s ‘forced economic growth strategy.’ This strategy (through the ‘Strategic Economic Plan’ or SEP) has been determined by the unelected Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership and it drives all the local plans and the County Transport plan (which proposes the non-housing developments in the Lodge Hill area).  A growing group of organisations from across the county think that current planning policies are driven by OxLEP’s obsession with economic growth at almost any cost, largely ignoring the long term damage to our environment and to rural communities.  We believe there is an alternative vision for the future of the county – one that is based on meeting peoples’ real needs not speculator greed which is being fuelled by the over-inflated housing numbers which result from the OxLep assuming growth at 3 times the Government’s national average. This requires 100,000 new houses – that’s the equivalent to two Oxfords in the next 15 years.  Let’s not kid ourselves that the enormous housing numbers being proposed will do anything to deliver the truly affordable housing which is so badly needed in the county - a developer admitted as much to us at the EIP last week. And it seems daily we read in the local newspapers of cases where developers are going backwards on their commitments to provide affordable housing as part of their developments. Over-ambitious housing numbers allow developers to ‘land bank’ and cherry pick easy, green field sites for larger homes which are more profitable. The OxLep failed to carry out any public consultation on the SEP because it ‘ran out of time’ (its words) before the plan had to be submitted to government. The SEP is now being “refreshed” and OxLep is running consultation sessions on 29 Feb and 1 March. We urge you to register for a place so that we can all make our voices heard. You can register here: http://www.oxfordshirelep.org.uk/content/strategic-economic-plan     
In addition, Need not Greed Oxon is planning some alternative public consultation events designed to gauge public views more accurately. More details will follow on that in due course. If you would like to know more about the Need not Greed campaign, please go to our website where you can sign up for our newsletter: http://www.neednotgreedoxon.org.uk/
Finally, a huge thank you from us to everyone who came to the ‘Protect our GB’ walk along the GB way from Radley to Sunningwell. Our thanks go to walkers, to everyone who helped with cake supplies, and serving refreshments in the Sunningwell Village hall at the end, and to members of SPADE, North Abingdon Local Plan Group, Save Peachcroft Field and Radley Parish Council who gave talks to the walkers about the development threats to the GB along the route.  We were really pleased to see so many people – nearly 100 - from Sunningwell, Radley, North Abingdon and further afield.  Photos from the walk are available on our Facebook site.
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