If you have interest in land which could be promoted for development, own or run a business in the county, or are interested in the way the county will change up to 2050, this may be the time to promote your vision for the future and/or realise the potential of your land.
But what is the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 and is it a trip ‘Back to the Future’?
The Oxfordshire Plan is the brainchild of the Oxfordshire Growth Board. It emerged from a ‘growth deal’ with Government as an alternative to full unitisation of the Oxfordshire authorities and a demonstration that they could work together to plan for new homes, infrastructure, and employment. Albeit that this plan should have been completed by now under its original programme, it is set to identify housing and employment targets and to create a countywide framework, or (if you can imagine such a thing) a regional spatial strategy, to deliver against those targets.
The central tenet of the draft plan is “Good Growth”. This, we are told, is a fairly exhaustive and exhausting list of criteria which includes being: “clean and green” and moving towards carbon neutrality; sustainable, which appears to focus on reducing the need to travel; embracing of innovation, in many sectors; healthy and inclusive; environmentally efficient and facilitating environmental improvements; enhancing of historic environment and cultural and heritage assets; supportive of a diverse and productive economy; resilient to change; and “high-quality”, which comes with its own subset of additional criteria relating to design and amenity.
This vision for growth is very laudable, and frankly unarguable. It also, clearly chimes with another recent soundbite for the near future; the Government’s “Build back better” but it is unremarkable and lacks a specificity for the county that will hopefully emerge in the next iteration of the plan. This does, however, provide an opportunity for respondents to the consultation to guide what a true vision might look like, and for a range of interested people to realise their own opportunities.
The draft plan is following several planning policy trends seen in other authority areas, including towards 20% biodiversity net gains, which is higher than the 10% proposed in the Environment Bill; the prioritisation of cycle and pedestrian networks; and the need to deliver technological advances in communications: both physical (electronic and autonomous vehicles) and virtual (superfast broadband).
The draft plan, as anyone who has been a recent observer of Oxfordshire development politics will expect, also contains significant considerations of climate change. This is an important element of any strategic plan which can engage with issues that cross political boundaries and divides. However, the climate is a dynamic and evolving issue and it is difficult to see how a static policy document will really be able to have a significant effect, especially as technologies and indeed other legislative processes, such as building regulations, will take over. Reaching an accord on the priorities for the county in this area should be identified as a positive outcome. An obvious omission from the draft plan though, is an acknowledgement that when considering buildings, it is not new development that is the major contributor to climate change and inefficiencies, but the existing stock of homes and business premises. Whilst this is not currently something covered by the planning system, if the councils are committed to responding to their declared climate emergencies, then complementary strategies to the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 that consider the current built environment will need to be produced.
What the draft plan does acknowledge, eventually at policy option 28 in a list of 32, is that there will be a continued need for new homes. This need, apparently, ranges from 18,000 to 70,000 new homes (in addition to what is currently planned) up to 2050. The difference of more than 50,000 emerges from the (current) calculation using the Government’s Standard Methodology which produces a minimum need figure, and what is described as a transformational economic strategy. This will no doubt be a key area of debate as the plan progresses. It is assumed that the hope is to ringfence the debate about housing figures to one plan examination process, instead of the recent – and continuing – experience at each constituent local authority’s local plan level. This would seem to be a positive step to avoid protracted plan making and increase certainty, but was the very reason why the former South East Plan, and other Regional Spatial Strategies, were abolished; for “dictating” housing numbers to local communities. It will be vital to engage with this debate, at this level, whatever scale of growth, or scale of land interest, you might have or be considering in the next thirty years.
It is not currently clear whether the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 will include new development site allocations, or just broad locations for growth. There is a focus on reflecting the status-quo and the content of the current local plans. However, this should not prevent interested people from presenting new or innovative opportunities. After all, innovation is part of the proposed vision for “Good Growth”.
There is an unbalanced feel to the consultation document, where there is detailed consideration of what might be considered non-strategic matters such as design, it is very light on issues such as the Green Belt. The options for the spatial distribution of development also remain very varied but this presumably reflects the wide range in potential needs.
It was asked at the beginning of this article if the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 was a trip ‘Back to the Future’. It currently looks very similar to the regional and structure plans of old, and contains many familiar themes. Also, like the third iteration of the franchise of the same name, it lacks a true identity and is trying to be too many things to too many people.
The draft plan needs refinement and consultation responses. If it can provide a more harmonious transition from the identification of needs to the delivery of growth than the tortuous process from the Oxfordshire Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) of 2013/14 to the eventual suite of local plans in 2020/21, then that has to be a positive.
The Oxfordshire Plan 2050 will be the first layer of policies in future development plans in the county, which will also include local plans and neighbourhood plans. This plan will set the framework for future growth and should be engaged with if you have any interest in land use and development up to 2050.
Contact our Oxfordshire planning and development professionals who can assist in crafting a suitable response to the consultation. The deadline for submissions is the 8 October 2021.
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We have experts dedicated to helping landowners secure planning permission for development. In Oxfordshire alone we have secured planning permission and or local plan allocations for circa 15,000 new homes and one million sq ft of commercial space within the past five years.
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