WE CANNOT blame Oxfordshire local government leaders for seeking a ‘Budget’ deal with the Government to get some infrastructure promises in exchange for increased housing growth.

Local authorities have had to beg Government for funding for many years now.

We have the most centralised government system in Europe; councils even having to plead with government to keep crumbs from the business rate – which is, after all, a local property tax.

Since the late 1970s, under successive governments, local councils have increasingly found themselves left with responsibilities, but without real financial discretion or power.

For example, for most of the last 40 or so years, housing authorities have been unable to build council houses (not even to replace those they have had to sell) – and this is at the heart of much of the current housing crisis.

Until fairly recently, Oxfordshire County Council prepared strategic (‘Structure’) Plans, got them approved by government, achieved a reasonable balance between economic and housing growth and conservation, and was able to secure much of the infrastructure needed to serve it.

Alas, a Labour government removed county council strategic planning powers in favour of regional assemblies – and then recent Tory-led Governments removed those, leaving only a general plea for county and districts to co-operate.

And that is difficult because understandably they have different ambitions. The problem here in Oxfordshire is that cooperation is effected through a Growth (sic) Board, vetted by a Local Economic Partnership, whilst a Brexit-beleaguered Government is desperately chasing growth at any cost.

We also have a city council keen to pull yet more employment into Oxford, often at the expense of housing.

It is unsurprising then that Oxfordshire seems to be trading housing growth increase for the promise of money.

However, what we have not had is a consideration of any sustainable balance between growth and conservation.

Nor much qualitative assessment of how the real housing needs for less well off people are going to be met; £80m for ‘affordable’ housing goes nowhere.

Nor for that matter does the promised £150m over five years for infrastructure; the Growth Board’s figure identifies a long term funding gap of £7bn!

A Unitary Council for the Oxford city region would help, but meantime it is critical that there is a real attempt to get a proper balance back as the promised Joint Spatial Plan is developed.

Unless we get a balanced plan, we will continue to see ill-thought-out proposals at places like Chalgrove Airfield (with no prospect of getting decent public transport) or for housing that would ruin critical parts of the Green Belt round Oxford.

Would we have believed even 10 years ago that any council in its right mind would have contemplated building over a 100-year-old golf course in the key Kidlington Gap?

Sunderland Avenue, Oxford