Cherwell District Council's Overview and Scrutiny Committee reviewed a report on the Oxfordshire 2050 strategic plan this week, with concerns being expressed over a growth needs assessment report dubbed the 'Son of SHMA' by Green councillor Ian Middleton.
The Oxfordshire Growth needs Assessment (OGNA) forms a central part of the new Oxfordshire 2050 plan which seeks to provide a strategic platform to co-ordinate development across the whole of the county. The recent consultation on these plans identified 3 levels of housing need between now and 2050 with the highest level representing a further huge growth target.
This is on top of the much criticised Strategic Housing Market Assessment or SHMA which suggested the need for 100,000 homes across the county by 2031 and underpinned Cherwell's recent Local Plan Partial review leading to large amounts of green belt being turned over to developers in Kidlington, Gosford, Yarnton and Begbroke.
A report presented to the CDC O&S committee on Tuesday claimed that there was significant support for the largest housing growth scenarios proposed by the OGNA, whilst conceding that the majority of that support came from landowners and property developers. Councillor Middleton joined other campaigners in calling for a peer review of these figures before the next stage of the consultation process after which it will lock these numbers into future proposals.
Additionally the report claimed there was support for a review of green belt land across the county as well as concerns, again largely from developers, that higher levels of net biodiversity gain as a requirement of new developments may make projects unviable.
Speaking at the meeting, Councillor Middleton said that the summary of the consultation didn't accurately reflect responses of residents and had been skewed in favour of higher growth and further encroachments into green belt. He dubbed it a developer's charter and highlighted the fact that developers and landowners could have unfairly influenced the consultation. His comments were supported by independent councillor John Broad.
Speaking after the meeting Ian Middleton said :
"We are at a critical stage in this consultation, where the interpretation of responses now will be fed into the next stage of the plan after which there will be very little opportunity to change things. If unrealistic growth figures are baked into the plan, we face a similar situation to that created by the SHMA which received significant criticism for inflating housing need by as much as 40% and led directly to the imminent destruction of large areas of green belt in South Cherwell"
"We need an urgent peer review of this assessment before moving to the next stage of the consultation process. The OGNA could well be the 'Son of SHMA' giving developers, landowners and planning authorities a charter to ride roughshod over local feeling yet again, forcing through development over and above any actual need in the pursuit of growth for its own sake"
"The inclusion of calls for a comprehensive green belt review also concerns me, not least because there is currently no established mechanism by which this could be carried out. There was no question relating to this in the consultation and responses to it have in my opinion been wilfully misinterpreted to suggest there is an appetite for such a review. I'm very concerned that this may represent the start of another attack on greenbelt protection which will see most, if not all of the green spaces around Oxford decimated by expansionism and unwarranted growth."
"Comments, again apparently from developers, complaining about enhancements to biodiversity gain requirements and increases in housing density intended to maximise available space, are also worrying and suggest a 'business as usual' approach despite the increasing focus on these aspects as part of a unified approach to tackling climate change"