AS the recent research commissioned by all Oxfordshire districts shows, our county faces an enormous shortfall of housing.
This will be no surprise to any of us: after all, numerous national surveys have shown that, when incomes are compared to rents and house prices, Oxford is just about the least affordable place to live in the country.
As a councillor, I see this every day – with families living in hideously overcrowded conditions, children forced to live with their parents until they reach middle age, unable to contemplate starting a family, and now a situation where, with council and housing accommodation so scarce, for those on a low income simply nothing in the city can be found.
That leaves people ripe for exploitation – something the city council is tackling with its action to raise standards in privately rented housing and on illegal dwellings (otherwise known as beds in sheds).
So the next question is, what do we do about this?
We could simply resolve that we’ll leave Oxford, and Oxfordshire, as the preserve of the rich, and simply tell those without the blessings of an inherited property or substantial personal wealth to move elsewhere, no longer welcome in their city.
Not only would this be socially unacceptable – it would also deprive the county of many vital workers, needed to keep hospitals and schools running, our roads safe, our streets clean and our buses on the road.
There are, broadly speaking, three options for Oxford city.
First, we could try to meet Oxford’s need (for 28,000 homes in the next 20 years – almost 20 new estates the size of Rose Hill) entirely within the city’s boundaries.
This would undoubtedly see employment sites close, as residential land values would be much higher; green spaces other than (and perhaps even including) the flood plain developed, and a full-on assault on some of the facilities we most value, like the Oxford Stadium.
Second, we could decide not to bother, just see a small amount of development, and hang a big sign over the city saying “You can only live here if you are rich”.
Or we could expand Oxford, allocating new Green Belt land to compensate for that lost to development, and give local people the homes they need. I know where my vote goes.
AS demand for housing grows, we need the Green Belt more than ever.
The Oxford Green Belt was established in the 1950s.
Its purpose was to prevent sprawl, to protect the setting of the historic city, and also to protect surrounding settlements from being engulfed, as had happened around Birmingham.
Nothing about this central purpose has changed nor should it – the point about the Green Belt is its permanence.
Recent proposals suggest that Oxfordshire needs 100,000 new houses by 2031.
This is equivalent to every settlement in the county – from Oxford to the smallest hamlet — growing by a third in size in just 17 years.
These figures are startling, but are also unsound, based on very dubious predictions of economic growth, unrealistic and unsustainable.
Unfortunately they have already been used by Vale of White Horse District Council as a basis for putting forward nearly 20 development sites within the Green Belt - a short-sighted and highly irresponsible move.
The city council is also leaping on the bandwagon again, with its eyes on both Grenoble Road and Kidlington. The Green Belt around the city belongs to other local authority areas, and the city’s long-held plan is not just to build on the Green Belt but to annexe the land for itself for yet further expansion.
Alas, our city council positively wants to be another Birmingham, destroying the very things which give Oxford its character and its desirability as a place to be, and its attraction to top-end businesses.
There is no justification for their schemes.
It would be a catastrophe for Oxfordshire if Oxford was to grow unchecked, as it would be for the villages which would be swamped, and for the county towns whose trade would be sucked into Oxford.
Eager as this Government is to see economic growth at almost any cost to the countryside, it draws the line at building on the Green Belt, where it says that even unmet housing need cannot override Green Belt protection.
Building on the Green Belt is unsustainable as it could never be replaced.
Housing forecasts that say we need to grow by 40 per cent are clearly absurd, but any housing Oxfordshire really needs must, of course, be provided.
Not on Green Belt land though, which is too valuable to all of us in Oxfordshire to lose.