As the Westgate planning application went before the planning committee, I addressed the committee as the local councillor for the area (Carfax), mentioning several issues. I focussed mainly on the travesty which is the lack of affordable housing. This is what I said:
The main point I would like to address though is in regards to building 1A, and more specifically to the lack of affordable accommodation in this entire development. I strongly urge the committee to reject the application on these grounds.
At a time when Oxford is facing a severe housing crisis, when 180 people are sleeping in homeless shelters within the same ward as Westgate, and the whole area is identified as being in the most deprived decile according to the index of multiple deprivation [see more stats about deprivation in the city here], when – as of the end of September – there are 3,300 households throughout the city on the housing register, it makes no sense for the City Council to approve a development which not only ignores the desperate housing needs of the city, but actually goes against our own housing policy.
Policy HP3 in the Sites and Housing Plan adopted by the council in Feb 2013 states that “Planning permission will only be granted for residential development on sites with capacity for 10 or more dwellings…if generally a minimum 50% of dwellings on the site are provided as affordable homes… Exceptions will be made only if it can be robustly demonstrated that this level of provision makes a site unviable”
This, I’m afraid, has not been demonstrated. What has been demonstrated, or at least assumed, is that the type of development planned, and the service charges associated with it, are not suitable for people on the council’s waiting list. Surely this should mean that the development is not right for Oxford and for its preferred strategic mix for affordable housing, rather than concluding that poor people should be kicked out of the city centre? Surely the City, and this committee, should demand that the applicant – which stands to make a large profit on this development, with or without a residential block – plan the residential area of this development in such a way that the city’s own planning policies are adhered to??
Approving the scheme as it now stands will show that the council doesn’t care about people being priced out of their own city, a process that started with the original Westgate Centre. It will show that the city is happy to bring in more and more expensive, high-end retail, but doesn’t care where the people who are supposed to work in these retail areas will live. I truly hope this is not the type of council Oxford has.
[Unfortunately it turns out that it is the type of council Oxford has, with only Green Cllr Elise Benjamin voting against the application, and the rest of the committee voting in favour]
The following was not part of my speech, as you are expected to focus on the application being discussed, but I wanted to add that Westgate is not the only example of waiving affordable housing targets in larger developments (if it was, I wouldn't be so angry about it!). The issue of pushing affordable housing outside of the central areas of the city is an ongoing problem, one that the City Council has been promoting, rather than trying to fight.
The latest example is the Castle Mill boatyard development. Just a day before this committee meeting, the local media published that a report, supported by the city council, has claimed that the 50% affordable housing target should be waived (such a report by the way, wasn't even made for Westgate, as I mention above).
It is no surprise then, that not one affordable home was built in Oxford between April 2013 and April 2014!