CAMPAIGNERS have lashed out after a plan for more than 4,000 new homes on Oxford’s Green Belt that will cause ‘wanton destruction’ was given official backing.

Cherwell District Council wants to build 4,400 homes on sites north of Oxford to meet housing demand the city council claims it cannot meet, but campaigners are strongly opposed.

Many complain pockets of land will be ruined for residents, including spots around Kidlington, Begbroke and Yarnton and the North Oxford Golf Club.

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Club members there have been fighting a plan to sell the land, off Banbury Road, for up to 1,200 homes – but now a planning inspector has said he is happy to support housing there.

A member of GreenWay – a group of golfers who oppose the club’s sale for housing – said he was ‘horrified’ planning inspector Paul Griffiths had given a cautious thumbs-up to Cherwell’s housing plan.

The inspector said that while he was left in ‘no doubt’ that the golf club was a ‘much-valued facility... the site it occupies is an excellent one for the sort of housing the plan proposes, given its location so close to Oxford Parkway, with its Park and Ride, and its proximity to the centre of Oxford'.

David Young, a member of GreenWay, said he found Mr Griffiths’ comments ‘very concerning’.

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The former director of environmental services at Oxfordshire County Council said: “GreenWay’s view remains that the exceptional circumstances to take land out of the Green Belt cannot possibly be demonstrated, that building on the golf course site would be wanton destruction and will adversely affect the health and wellbeing of the wider community.”

He added: “We are horrified that despite continual reassurances from government ministers that the Green Belt is safe, these assurances seem worthless.

"We face here what looks like the biggest ever proportional raid on a vital part of Green Belt – treating it apparently as a resource to be squandered – and on the flimsiest of evidence.”

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Mr Griffiths’ comments follow Oxford University's announcement of further details about how it would build 2,000 new homes in Begbroke.

A new £4bn deal with Legal and General was formally announced earlier this month and would contribute to that scheme.

Many councillors and campaigners across the county are incensed that Oxfordshire's district councils, such as Cherwell, keep trying to help meet Oxford’s 'unmet housing need' despite the fact that the exact scale of that need has yet to be fully qualified.

Campaigners have insisted that the number of homes Oxford will need to meet demand need should be decided first – only then should Vale of White Horse, South Oxfordshire and Cherwell district councils be given the opportunity to meet those numbers.

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West Oxfordshire District Council, meanwhile, has already adopted its Local Plan for housing.

However, next week, Cherwell’s only Green councillor, Ian Middleton, along with Liberal Democrats Katherine Tyson and Conrad Copeland, will ask their council to suspend its Local Plan. That follows worries from planning inspectors looking at Oxford’s plan that the current estimated unmet need might be too far high.

Mr Middleton said: “Oxford’s housing need has yet to be accurately defined and questions raised by the planning inspectors looking into the city’s Local Plan cast further serious doubt on the assumptions underlying Cherwell’s proposals.”

Planning inspector Mr Griffiths said while ‘that seems a reasonable position to take... it is not the way in which the planning system is currently set up.’

He added: “The Planning Inspectorate has a duty to appoint inspectors to carry out an independent examination expeditiously on submission and is not involved in discussions between authorities about timetabling, or anything else, before plans are submitted.”

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However, Mr Griffiths has also said that another part of the plan, to build homes in Woodstock, would ‘represent an incongruous extension into the countryside’ and would ‘cause significant harm’.

He added proposed land in Yarnton could be allowed to ‘extend westward’. That could, he said, ‘provide the scope for a development more interesting in its design and layout’.

Cherwell council will now decide how to proceed over the next few months.

In a statement, a spokesman said: “The council is considering the inspector’s advice. It notes his views that the plan’s proposed housing requirement is sound, that its strategy is appropriate and that there are exceptional circumstances to justify alterations to Green Belt boundaries.

“The inspector has highlighted several matters that will require careful consideration and additional work. The council will be writing to the inspector with an indicative timetable for that work and it will need to consult with the inspector on any modifications to the plan. Some additional public consultation, specifically on those modifications, can then be expected.”

Both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, one of whom will be the country’s next Prime Minister, have cast doubt over building on Green Belt land.

Outgoing PM Theresa May said in March 2018 that ‘tearing up’ the Green Belt would not alone solve the UK’s housing crisis.

A decision on South Oxfordshire District Council’s Local Plan is expected on Thursday.