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New Homes threat to Green Belt

[posted 04/11/2004]

The possibility, raised in the draft Oxfordshire Structure Plan, of allowing new homes to be built south of Grenoble Road, South Oxford, has led to a number of speculative bids to develop land in other parts of the Oxford Green Belt, including on land between Sunningwell and the A34, and between Kennington and Radley. Pressure groups such as SPADE, the CPRE and the Oxford Preservation Trust and Councils have united under the banner of the Oxford Green Belt Network to resist such moves.

Pressure to build new homes arises from central Government insistence that local authorities provide over three quarters of a million new homes in the southeast over the next 25 years, and from Oxford City Council which, having run out of extensive sources of building land within the city boundary, is unwilling to build on its own green meadows.

[update 7/11/04]

An escalation of the threat occurred this week when SEERA (the South East England Regional Assembly, an unelected regional body consisting of nominated ‘representatives’) released a report recommending that 40,000 new homes should be built in Oxfordshire in the next 20 years and that some of these should be built on existing Oxford Green Belt land. The report has come down in favour of Oxford City Council, and against the views of Oxfordshire County Council, in recommending a review of Green Belt boundaries to make ‘some selective adjustment’ in order to accommodate thousands of new homes. The report was submitted to the SEERA Regional Planning Committee at Westminster on 8th November. 

[update 12/11/04]

On 8th November, in a major U-turn, the SEERA Regional Planning Committee overturned the recommendations of its officers’ report (see above) and voted to reject proposals for a review of Green Belt boundaries. Members decided that there was no case for such a review in the region and agreed that any cases for small-scale local reviews should be pursued locally through existing procedures.The key planning document, to be submitted the the full regional assembly later this month, emphasises the importance of Green Belts in preventing unrestricted urban sprawl and in retaining the identities of neighbouring towns and villages.

Nevertheless the local disagreements between Oxford City and Oxfordshire County Councils persist, with Oxford City Council arguing that Green Belts were limiting economic growth and that local reviews have proved ‘too hot to handle’ and must therefore be carried out at regional level.

The committee also agreed to recommend a public consultation about the preferred level of housing growth in the region over the next 20 years. Three options would be offered:

  • 29,500 per year (590,000 over 20 years = 8.5% per decade)
  • 32,000 per year (640,000 over 20 years = 9.5% per decade)
  • 36,000 per year (720,000 over 20 years = 10.5% per decade)

The percentage figures relate to the total number of households (3.4 million) in the SE England Region in Spring 2003 (source: Office of National Statistics).

To put these figures into perspective, in 2001 Oxfordshire had 241,218 households (source: 2001 census), with an average occupancy of 2.5. Thus, at the minimum projection, it is being proposed that the number of homes in the South East expands by the current total number of homes in Oxfordshire alone every 10 years.

The average population growth rate in the UK as a whole is about 3% per decade (source: Office of National Statistics). Thus the above figures are well out of line with the national average, and can hardly be described as ‘sustainable‘.

[update 05/12/04, amended 26/12/2004]

Confusion and chaos? At the plenary meeting on 29th November, SEERA members passed an amendment reducing the levels of housing growth offered under the three options while questioning the validity and accuracy of data contained in the officers’ report, (parts of which, according to the Oxford Times, have had to be withdrawn). A further amendment inserts caveats into the forward to the plan expressing doubts about the quality of the underpinning data and acknowledging the lack of a total consensus among members and local authorities.As a result, the above 20-year housing growth options have been amended downwards as follows:

  • 25,500 per year (510,000 over 20 years = 7.5% per decade)
  • 28,000 per year (560,000 over 20 years = 8.2% per decade)
  • 32,000 per year (640,000 over 20 years = 9.5% per decade)

The first figure represents the average national build rate during 1999-2004; the second, the current planned build rate and the third is based on SEERA’s own population projections.

Section E7, covering Central Oxfordshire, indicates a planned build rate of between 1600 and 2000 homes per year (RPG9 and RPG9+25% which equates to 6.6%-8.3% per decade) with Bicester and Didcot being highlighted as areas of potential development. (These figures are at variance with the current planned build rate of 2430 per year for Oxfordshire reported in theOxford Times.)

The plan reinforces the preservation of the Green Belt.

[update 05/04/05]

The South East Regional Authority is currently running a public consultation on the draft South East Plan. All households in the region should receive, or should have received, a leaflet/questionnaire entitled A Clear Vision for the South East – The South East Plan – Your Shout!Questionnaires should be completed and returned by 15th April. If you would like to express your views on the housing, and related, issues, it is worth taking the trouble to do this. However, be warned, the questions are somewhat loaded and difficult to answer in a consistent manner. Careful thought is therefore required. In particular, you should consider all answers before answering any question. Indeed, you may feel that it is not possible to give answers that fully reflect your views.It is still worth giving it a try. If there is insufficient response to the questionnaire, the Authority will resort to determining opinion from a poll survey in which respondents are unlikely to be given the opportunity to reflect on their overall position before answering questions.

For further information, visit www.southeast-ra.gov.uk/southeastplan or phone the 24 hour information line on 01 483 555 208.

If you have not received a form, or, if you prefer, you may complete the online questionnaire. Click on the above link, then click on Consultation and follow the link to the questionnaire; or go directly to


[update 16/04/05]

Did you have your shout? Were you even aware that your opinion on matters of importance to all of us who live in the SouthEast was being sought? To say that the consultation campaign (see above) had a low profile would be an understatement. It seems that a large number of homes did not even receive a questionnaire. Those that did, or were sufficiently aware to respond on-line, would probably have felt that the questions were loaded, presumptuous, and difficult to answer consistently. Many would have had great difficulty in answering in a way that accurately reflected their views. For whatever reasons, the response is reported to have been poor, more a whisper than a shout, and will not amount to any kind of mandate for SEERA. You may put it down to plain incompetence, or a Machiavellian conspiracy. Either way, it reflects badly on those responsible. The public interest has not been served well.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.radleyvillage.org.uk/new-homes-threat-to-green-belt/