The demand for homes that the economic success of the Oxford City region brings with it is a key issue across the Thames Valley. In 2015, Oxford City was among the top 5% least affordable locations in England excluding London.
Whilst the need for housing arising in Oxford is clear, the rate of housing delivery has been poor, with Oxford City's own figures forecasting that just 206 dwellings will be completed in 2015/16. In essence the City is constrained by tightly drawn boundaries, the Green Belt and other factors (including areas at risk of flooding). The surrounding Oxfordshire Local Authorities have recognised these constraints and have spent the last two years, working alongside other stakeholders, to seek to accommodate Oxford City's “unmet need” elsewhere within the County.
The requirement for this collaborative approach was recognised at an early date by all the Local Authorities as failure to comply with the “duty to co-operate” jeopardised the progression of each Authority’s Local Plan. Cherwells Local Plan proceeded last year only on the proviso that it was revisited shortly after adoption to help meet Oxfords unmet need. More recently West Oxfordshires Local Plan didn’t get off the starting blocks pending, in part, clarification of their requirements to help cater for Oxford’s unmet need.
The Oxfordshire Growth Board comprising all Oxfordshire Authorities, working alongside Oxfordshire County Council, OXLEP and other stakeholders have sought a collaborative approach. Following some early skirmishes on the capacity of Oxford City to accommodate development agreement was quickly established on a “working assumption” that the Authorities would collectively need to accommodate an additional 15,000 new homes in the period to 2031.
Discussions on apportionment have taken longer (agreement was originally due 12 months ago) perhaps reflecting the political ramifications. The exercise of seeking to apportion housing need arising in Oxford City could seek to reflect a number of factors including housing market areas, transport connections, migration flows, commuting patterns, environmental and other constraints and the sustainability of further development in / adjacent to existing settlements.
The two authorities that have recently progressed draft local plans (Cherwell and South Oxfordshire) have assumed that the need would be split equally between the surrounding authorities.
Figure 1: NPPF Constraints and Green Belt in Oxfordshire
Figure 2: Main Public Transport Nodes in Oxfordshire and Journey Times
In truth the process of apportionment now proposed within the OGB report for next weeks meeting follows a less analytical approach. Instead the Growth Board have sought to assess the availability and suitability of specific large sites (capable of accommodating 500 + homes) informed by a series of high level studies on Green Belt, Transport Capacity and Infrastructure capabilities, Education Provision and Habitats Assessments. A number of sites were excluded from the analysis (including land at Carterton, Faringdon and Long Hanborough) on the basis of being “less directly related to the City” (pg 23). The remaining sites were classified as “Red,” “Amber” or “Green” with the latter then aggregated to result in the recommended apportionment for each Local Authority
Recommended Apportionment for unmet need from Oxford City
Source : OGB September 2016 Committee Report (pg 7)
Despite the 12 months delay in the original schedule the process to date has been relatively quick and the comprehensive solution sought should prevent a series of bilateral agreements being challenged or collapsing at Local Plan Inquiries.
It is unusual for Local Authorities to have involvement in the identification of sites (and subsequent apportionment of housing allocations) within neighbouring authorities. The OGB Committee Report for next weeks meeting hints at some of the tensions that have arisen through this process. The initial list of sites for assessment were put forward by each district themselves or “the partners on their behalf” (pg 23). The partially subjective nature of assessing all 36 sites, and the scope for disagreements, is reflected in the commentary on the Oxford Golf Club site. This records that “there was not agreement within the Project Team on the score for this area. The Rural districts consider that it could be judged to be green if considered on a consistent basis with other areas of search. Oxford believes that it is not possible to mitigate the hydrology concerns that development would cause.” The site is therefore “amber” recommended for further assessment but the potential 1,100 homes arising are not included in the recommended apportionment.
The OGB will vote on the recommended apportionment next week. All of the Authorities have been party to the assessment and conclusions and some have been preparing the ground in advance. In July 2016 West Oxfordshire submitted an ‘Expression of Interest’ to central government to create a locally-led Garden Village to the north of Eynsham. Land at Eynsham forms West Oxfordshires recommended apportionment in the OGB conclusions.
Other Authorities may be less responsive to the OGB recommendations. South Oxfordshire have long resisted proposals at Grenoble Road with Councillor John Cotton, leader of South Oxfordshire stating in February 2015 “we still believe Grenoble Road is the wrong solution” and it was excluded from the very recent (July 2016) iteration of the local plan. It is however considered “reasonably sustainable” and forms a “green” site within the OGB analysis with it’s potential to accommodate 2,200 homes inflating South Oxfordshires apportionment to 4,950 dwellings (up from the 3,750 dwellings they proposed two months ago in the local plan).
The OGB report is clear that whilst it will dictate apportionment across the County “the short list of areas of search that underpins it must be viewed as indicative” (pg 6) and this exercise “is not seeking to allocate or release sites” as “subsequent Local Plan work may bring forward other sites” (pg 32). This recognises that competing sites remain open for consideration and the matter will be resolved through forthcoming local plans processes across the County.
It goes without saying that housing development at this scale will bring economic benefits to these authorities. Recent research by NLP suggesting that the provision of a further 14,850 homes will result in:
- Around 1,800 FTE construction jobs with;
- An additional £371.4 million of resident expenditure within shops and services each year;
- Result in New Homes Bonus Payments equivalent to £148.9 million across the Local Authorities over a set six year period; and
- Provide additional Council Tax Revenues estimated to be equivalent to £26.2 million each year
And so next Mondays meeting may provide some pieces of the jigsaw for meeting Oxfords unmet need but piecing the jigsaw together seems likely to go on for some time yet.