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Housing plan covering Thame 'must go ahead'

South Oxfordshire District Council had put off implementing the Local Plan put together by previous leaders.

Published by Local Democracy Reporter David Lynch at 1:13pm 4th March 2020. (Updated at 1:14pm 4th March 2020) 4-minute read.

Housing plan covering Thame 'must go ahead'

The government has said there is no choice but to go along with a plan to build 28,500 homes across South Oxfordshire, despite local concerns about overdevelopment.

South Oxfordshire District Council was due to discuss two options for the future of its Local Plan tonight: to keep it and send it for approval by a planning inspector, or to withdraw it and make changes to it.

But on Tuesday night, SODC’s leader Sue Cooper was sent a letter by the government’s secretary of state for housing, Robert Jenrick, which told the Lib Dem-Green coalition council it had to go ahead with the plan and give him monthly updates on its progress, with the aim of finishing it be December.

In his letter, Mr Jenrick said:

“I will continue to closely monitor your plan-making progress.

“Should a significant delay occur, should you fail to comply with the directions in this letter without a good reason or should the Plan fail at examination, I will consider taking further intervention action to ensure that an up-to-date Local Plan is in place in South Oxfordshire.”

The council had been expecting the government minister to lift a suspension, which has prevented it from discussing the Local Plan in public since last October.

There have been months of behind the scenes negotiations between SODC and the government, as the Lib Dems and Greens were elected on a platform of making changes to the plan.

They replaced a Conservative administration in May last year, and wanted make changes to prevent building too many homes and on green belt land.

With the suspension lifted the council could have then voted on the future of the Local Plan, although a report prepared ahead of the meeting said the government would probably hand it over to Oxfordshire County Council if SODC tried to scrap it.

OCC had voted in favour of taking over the plan if it was invited to at its meeting in January.

Instead of a discussion, at tonight’s meeting there will be ‘a verbal update from senior officers’ on what the next steps are for the plan.

A statement from SODC said:

“Councillors cannot consider the options set out in the officer’s report published with the meeting agenda due to the secretary of state’s new direction.”

The new direction ordered by the government has been met with disappointment from council leader Sue Cooper.

Thame

Ms Cooper said:

“It’s disappointing the secretary of state has felt it necessary to intervene, however the council remains committed to working constructively with the MHCLG and the Secretary of State as well as engaging productively with our partnerships across Oxfordshire.”

The two options which the council had planned to consider were a repeat of the choice it had in October last year.

But while the cabinet had recommended to approve withdrawing the plan and making changes to it in October, council staff had recommended councillors should vote to keep the plan.

Mr Jenrick’s letter said he would use legal powers from Section 27 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to make sure the council had its new local plan in place by December.

He also said SODC failing to adopt its plan would have an impact on other Oxfordshire Local Plans which are currently being discussed in Cherwell and Oxford.

This is because all of the district councils surrounding Oxford have agreed to allow house building in their areas to address the need for housing in Oxford.

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