YES: As a councillor representing a ward on the outskirts of Oxford, I appreciate our local natural environment, writes Van Coulter, below.
But, when considering the development of up to 885 homes adjacent to Barton, I also felt providing homes for local people to live-in, in a low carbon development, was important as well.
There’s no merit in claiming environmental points by preserving low grade agricultural land – or a sewage farm – falling within a Green Belt, if by doing so we place distance between workers and their workplace. This leads to avoidable commuting miles and saturating Oxfordshire’s roads.
Of the 109,000 people working in Oxford’s 4,000 businesses, about half live outside the city. Employment in Oxford continues to grow, forcing even more people to commute. It is carbon inefficient, expensive and leads to further traffic chaos throughout Oxfordshire.
Oxford has an astonishingly high housing need, as illustrated by too-high housing costs. In March 2014, the average cost of a home measured across 62 British cities was £184,215. That works out at 5.8 times the typical annual salary. In Oxford the average price for a home was £340,864. That’s 11.25 times the average annual earnings for Oxford.
The supply of homes coming to the market is not keeping up with growing demand. This puts an upward pressure on house prices and places some home-buyers at risk of over-stretching their finances.
And, rather than owning a home, more of Oxford’s residents now rent. The cost of a home in Oxford’s private rented sector costs about half of the average local pre-tax wage – outside London, Oxford is the least affordable district to rent in the private sector.
However, despite Oxford’s acute housing need, some argue that Oxfordshire and Britain are already overdeveloped. But that is not right – according to most estimates less than 14 per cent of England is developed – with just a fraction more we could solve our housing shortage.
It is quite evident that the built environment is a tiny part of Britain – our country and our county have not been concreted over. Indeed, many people forget that the land CPRE is trying to protect does not consist of green fields, accessible to the public, but low grade agricultural land and a sewage farm.
The most sustainable way for meeting housing needs for Oxford is to build urban extensions next to the city’s employment opportunities, even if this takes up a small part of the existing Green Belt.
Refusing to consider a review of the Green Belt is unreasonable.
NO: The Green Belt does not need a review – it is serving us well as it is. What’s more, it is essential to Oxford and Oxfordshire that it remains in place, writes Michael Tyce, below.
The city council claims that either we dismantle it, or people won’t be able to have the houses they really need. Not true. We can have both.
Green Belts were created to stop urban sprawl, the uncontrolled expansion of cities spreading down roads and filling in fields willy-nilly, engulfing neighbouring villages and towns. Anyone who has seen America will know what urban sprawl looks like. Green Belts help define the character of England and its communities, especially here in the crowded South.
Therefore the essential task of a Green Belt is to be a belt to hold in the city. It must obviously be permanent.
There’s no point in having a corset if you let it out every time you feel like expanding.
That it is also green means it gives easy access to countryside for city dwellers. It keeps Oxford and Oxfordshire an attractive place to live and do business. No wonder Green Belts are overwhelmingly popular. Oxford’s has served us well for over 50 years. So why has Oxford City Council spent most of those 50 years seeking to sprawl out over it?
The city council suffers from an expansionist tendency. Since 1981 Oxford has been pushing to spread over the Green Belt, far beyond its borders. Although the Green Belt was specifically created to preserve Oxford and prevent it sprawling out like Birmingham, making Oxford another Birmingham seems just what the city council wants to achieve.
The current weapon of choice is the SHMA, a housing forecast which sounds like, and is, something from a horror movie. It claims that, to satisfy need, our housing stock has to increase by 40 per cent, which would be immensely destructive to the whole of the county. But on closer examination, very little of this turns out to be for people presently in Oxford, or indeed Oxfordshire. By far the largest element is a hypothesis, on no evidence whatsoever, that 80,000 new jobs will be created for incomers to the county wanting houses here.
It is neither realistic nor credible.
Even if it was, it is no justification for breaching the Green Belt. Eight thousand houses are already being built in the city.
If more are really needed, city land that is being earmarked for commercial development, ratcheting up housing demand, should instead be used to build houses.
No reviews needed here. Hands off our Green Belt, city council.
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