Council received the following Petition and Public Address:
A Petition from Mrs Beverley Darlison, on behalf of the Milton Heights Action Group requesting that the Council take all necessary steps to preserve and maintain the care and support of those at Hft Milton Heights who were threatened with the impending closure of the site.
Public Addresses – Agenda Item 9
The Leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, Sue Cooper urged the Council to reject the officer recommendations on the basis that the Secretary of State removing of a statutory power from one local authority to another would have a very serious impact on local Democracy and working relationships. Within local government. There was no formal public decision of SODC to withdraw the emerging local plan; the directive from the SoS had delayed any further work on the plan and the housing infrastructure funding on much needed roads in Didcot. SODC agreed with the SoS that the Local Plan was unsatisfactory, so she was therefore bemused that the SoS had said that the local plan should proceed, it was inconsistent. SODC residents had voted against the plan in the elections in May. She further outlined concerns regarding the financial implications of the Council taking over the Local Plan in that Oxfordshire would get the money, but that it would come from SODC and they had no idea how much it would be. She reminded Council that they were all part of the Housing & Growth Deal and that they needed to work together in the interests of the residents of Oxfordshire and that SODC intended to recognise that and go along with the numbers in the deal.
Professor Richard Harding spoke against the recommendations on behalf of CPRE, who contended the plan on the basis that it was floored. They believed the allocation of housing was far higher than was needed by any scientific or rational method, but crucially that the draft plan had no recognition of the climate emergency facing the country; no targets for emission reductions; it had no plans to protect and enhance the natural environment. The proposed housing around oxford would severely damage the greenbelt. The plan was for a car-based society completely unsuited to the 21st century and would do immeasurable damage to the local environment and social fabric of South Oxfordshire. The last district election result of the ruling party being overturned was as a direct result of people objecting to the overdevelopment of SODC set out in the plan. SODC had a valid plan to 2027.
He believed the SOS Holding Direction which meant that SODC could not even debate their local pla, let alone withdraw or start a new plan was a complete denial of freedom of speech and local democracy.
Ms Alice Bragg, speaking on behalf of A Better South Oxfordshire against the recommendations to take over control of SODC local plan which would affect thousands of residents in SODC. The take over would not be because the Council had been deemed unfit such as Rotherum, although this intervention would suggest that they were. The recommendations would strip locally elected councillors of their ability to do their duty. She suggested that there needed to be very serious grounds to take this course of action and requested that the Council ask themselves the question of what it was SODC councillors had done to have their powers stripped from them, and that if they could not answer this question honestly and with all the information laid bear and that if they could not justify the enormity of what they were being asked to do to reject the recommendation.
Mr Mark Stevenson, The Clays Organic Market Garden spoke against the recommendations on the basis that the recommendation would have a profound impact on local democracy and the climate emergency. Residents of SODC elected councillors to act on their behalf. The previous Council had not, they had promised to protect the greenbelt and then didn’t and the plan proposed more housing than was desired or required. The plan seemed to be more about creating profit for businesses than providing thriving sustainable communities. Therefore, local residents voted a new council in on the basis that they would fight against unsustainable development and work together to achieve it. In relation to Climate change he explained that building a new house on average omitted about 50 tonnes of C02. There was no room for unnecessary building. The poor energy performance of the current stock of houses, was in his opinion completely unnecessary as zero carbon development had been around since 2002. There was no attempt in LTP 2034 to recognise any bioregional awareness, water resilience or food security.
Ms Mandy Rigault, spoke against the recommendations on behalf of all the local residents who had rejected the Plan, on the basis that the recommendation was only about Money. The newly elected administration had voted against the previous administrations plan in which 6 out of the 7 proposed developments were in the Greenbelt. This had frustrated the County Council as the £215 million promised by the growth deal was contingent on every district having a local plan. She believed that the proposal was because central government wanted to control SODC and that if the Council agreed it would be striking a blow at the principal of democracy itself. It would set a dangerous precedent for the Government to change the rules every time a local authority dared to adopt a course of action in opposition to the Government. She believed that if the County Council chose Money over Democracy is would be a historical moment.
Mr Ian Ashley spoke as a member of A Better South Oxfordshire urging the Council to reject the recommendations, on the basis that to accept the invitation would be completely undemocratic. He refuted the suggestion that SODC did not have a plan that would prevent speculative development; the plan that was adopted in 2012 provided adequate protection until such time that a suitable replacement for the 2034 could be adopted. He believed the risks to the County Council would be substantial, including legal challenge, the distraction from the day to day job the council had to perform, and disenfranchised SODC electorate and the knock-on effect to the rest of the districts in the County wondering if they are next. He suggested that, rather than undermine SODC Councillors, the Council should liaise with Government to find a way how to secure the necessary infrastructure and public service funding before new houses are built and without pre-conditions.
Dr Sue Roberts spoke against the recommendations on the basis that she believed that there was more housing per person in this county than there ever had been; that homelessness was not caused by a lack of housing and that building more homes did not reduce their price. In 2014 the Strategic Housing Market Assessment doubled the previous allocation set down by Labour to two whole new Oxfords by 2031, well in excess of need according to Dominique Raab. The SODC Plan for 2034 allocated land for 10,000 more than that target, which would cause carbon dioxide damage, cutting up the landscape and killing off wildlife and eating up high grade farmland - she warned that once the natural land was gone so were we. She believed what was proposed was illegal and that for the County Council to take over the Plan it must first be withdrawn.
Mr Robin Bennett, Chair of the Green Group SODC spoke against the recommendations on the basis that in the elections in the Green Group had gone from 0 to 6 in May 2019 with SODC voters responding to the Green Group’s message regarding the over-development of the Greenbelt. This was not Nimbyism. Voters saw a planning system that delivered car dependent sprawl at unaffordable prices. The SoS had said at the launch of the ‘Building Better’ report that ….” we must have the confidence to say no to schemes that we know in our hearts are bad for the people destined to live in them and the surrounding community… We were in a Climate Crisis which required a different set of actions to those proposed in the old set of Local Plans. In April SODC declared a Climate Emergency which demanded a review of the council policies and the Plan had had no such review. He questioned why thousands of homes were being built now that would need to be retro-fitted tomorrow? Mr Jenrick had said that he wanted to Zero Carbon houses being built as standard in the next five years. The pressure on the plan was the need for roads to connect Culham Science Centre and the Growth Deal, the Plan including thousands more houses than required by the Growth Deal. He believed it was up to the SoS to use Political will to turn positive discussion with officials at MHCLG into a solution and that a method to allow SODC to work on a new plan that made commitments around the Growth Deal and HIFF ought to be possible or alternatively a clear indication should be given on how significant changes could be made to the submitted Plan in the inspection process beyond the limited scope so far permitted.
Mr Peter Emery spoke against the recommendations on the basis that the recommendation represented a ‘disturbing power grab’ by Mr Jenrick to remove Statutory planning powers from SODC Council. SODC had recently gone from being Conservative Led to Liberal Democrat/Green control. He believed the Local Plan housing numbers were at the heart of the election and that Mr Jenrick now wanted to pass those powers onto the Conservative led County Council. In doing so, he had cited the White Paper which was still not passed 3 years later. He believed there was no legal basis on which to accuse SODC of not carrying out their responsibilities correctly and there was no planning reason to remove powers from SODC. SODC had a mandate from the residents of South Oxfordshire to review the local Plan. OCC had no such powers. He urged the Council to vote against the proposal.
Mr Ian Middleton, speaking as a CDC Councillor against the recommendations, spoke of his concern over the precedent being set if the County were to accept the recommendation. The Local Plan was not a County matter, only district councils had the democratic mandate to develop local plans and the role should not be traded between councils as a matter of political expediency. Last year councillors were voted in on the basis of what they would do if they got in. The Council were now keeping their promise by looking again at their local plan – they were not saying they would scrap the plan only re-examine it. By preventing that, the SoS was telling those people that their votes counted for nothing. He believed this was only happening because the Council was no longer ruled by the Conservatives and the SoS wanted to give it to a Conservative led Council that would tow the line which was pre-determination. Localism only mattered if councils followed a rigid national dogma. He warned the Council against taking this route. Instead he asked that they send a message that Oxfordshire councils should not be set against each other and are united in their support of a truly representative local democracy.
SODC Councillor Leigh Rawlins spoke as a local resident and a SODC Councillor urging the Council to reject the recommendations which he believed to be an attempted coup against local democracy. He stood in the last elections so he could rectify the ELP 2034 plan. The new councillors had a strong mandate for change and there was broad agreement that the HIFF infrastructure was necessary and that the OGD commitment to the supply of 22.8k homes would be honoured and committed to, the truth of which had been grossly misrepresented. The Plan provided for more than 32.6k, there were a lot of site issues; too much greenbelt released; it was dramatically weak on climate change – far worse than the core strategy; density policy was grossly in error and inflexible and the mix continued to provide the ongoing market housing as 4+ bedroom homes – which did not meet the need and the delivery was not achievable and would have led to speculative development. Oxfordshire did not want driven mass inward migration; over-heating of Oxford City; more imbalance of jobs and homes; more long-distance commuting and the associated social cleansing and electoral remodelling implied. He asked the Council to protect the basis of mutual respect on which all Oxfordshire cooperation must be based.
Dr Peter Kirby spoke against the recommendations and expressed his concern regarding the strong erosion of democracy the meeting represented. He believed there had been a three-year campaign of misinformation by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in order to influence local planning decisions. Outrageous claims had been made in the national and local press by the department’s atomic energy, that nuclear fusion research at Culham would provide a commercial nuclear reactor in 20 years. This was to enable an attack on the Greenbelt, under the false flag of exceptional circumstances. He believed fusion research was being used to justify commercial property portfolio in the greenbelt; the construction of a new small town in the greenbelt and further road irrespective of the damage to human health. The claims of fusion were not supported by reality. SODC was a valid fully functioning part of local government and its present political constitution was determined by a lawful democratic process. Interference by Central Government was contrary to that process. He urged the Council to vote against it.
Ms Claire Bird spoke as a local resident against the recommendations on the basis that her community had voted for the present administration because of the local plan and their views on climate change, believing they could make a difference and now that was being taken away from them as they dared to be bold. She felt that although the experience of speaking to the Council was daunting, her overriding fear was about the destruction of green spaces; climate change and how we hadn’t fully woken up to it yet and the loss of democracy. She urged the Council that however tangled up they felt in the detail and however much fear they felt about the money, party politics or on this planet power play to step back and look at the bigger picture. The things that really mattered were a sustainable future on this planet and democracy. She had been brave, and she urged the Council to be brave for all of them too.