A COUNCIL will ask for time to decide if it wants to change a critical housing plan but keep £218m of key Government infrastructure funding.

In the latest twist as South Oxfordshire District Council seeks to pass its Local Plan, its new Liberal Democrat/Green coalition was accused of ‘fudging’ a decision by opponents.

The coalition swept to power in May promising to scrap its unpopular Local Plan but now it has said it needs more time to decide what to do.

It said it wants to ensure £218m that would be spent on improving infrastructure in and around Didcot is not lost.

South Oxfordshire council’s cabinet member for planning, Leigh Rawlins, told a packed meeting it ‘wouldn’t be sensible to make a knee-jerk decision and crash on’.

The coalition has said it also wants to build an appropriate number of new homes. But it believes the need for about 28,000 homes that could be built in the district before the mid-2030s is unproven and far too high.

The decision leaves potential planning sites at Grenoble Road, Chalgrove Airfield and Culham up in the air for at least a few more weeks.

The council will now seek to get county council and Government reassurance that the £218m in Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) money will be secure regardless.

The county council, which has led the bid, said it wants to sign it off in September.

District council officers had urged councillors to continue with the current Local Plan, which seeks to build on several contentious Green Belt sites. But 20 councillors to 13 voted to try to keep HIF money and delay the plan.

Jane Murphy, the Conservatives’ former council leader, claimed it would be foolish to go against officers’ advice.

She said: “Are we really wanting them to come back with a decision that is not best for the district? If [the Local Plan]’s not found sound [by a planning inspector]…we will know soon enough and we will need to revise it.” 

Mrs Murphy said there is a ‘silent majority’ of people who want extra housing built across South Oxfordshire, including affordable units that would be funded by part of the £215m Oxfordshire Growth Deal. That is unrelated to HIF money.

But independent Didcot councillor Simon Hewerdine claimed politicians who said most people in the district are supportive of the plan are in ‘cuckoo land’.

It is unclear what will happen to the Growth Deal if South Oxfordshire council delays its Local Plan.

Campaigners packed into the meeting room in Crowmarsh Gifford, with some people watching from a corridor.

Resident Richard Harding pleaded with the council to scrap the plan and make another one in the future more mindful of environmental concerns. He said the current version would mean ‘a car-based society with strategic developments dotted randomly around'.