AN EXTRAORDINARY row has broken out between Oxfordshire council leaders over whether tens of thousands of new homes should be built across the county.

Oxford City Council has this week accused South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) of having a ‘flawed understanding’ of key planning issues, just weeks before the latter is set to decide whether it will keep its vital Local Plan for housing.

That decision will also likely determine whether the county can still get hundreds of millions of pounds of government funding which is dependent on building new homes.

Read more: South Oxfordshire District Council accepts Local Plan

The new Liberal Democrat and Green leadership at SODC, who took over in May, told the city council its demand for thousands of new homes ‘appeared incongruous’ with it declaring a climate emergency in January.

The city council reacted furiously. One insider said the criticism was ‘just factually inaccurate,’ particularly SODC’s claim that it was supporting the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway ‘by implication’ because it was backing future growth between the university cities. The city council has regularly opposed the expressway in its current form.

Oxford Mail:

South Oxfordshire District Council leader Sue Cooper.

Sue Cooper, SODC’s Lib Dem leader, and Robin Bennett, its Green cabinet member for development and regeneration, told city council leader Susan Brown in an open letter that there was a ‘potential contradiction’ between Oxford’s housing plans and reducing emissions.

The previous Conservative administration at SODC had agreed to take homes for Oxford to fulfil the city’s ‘unmet need,' as have other Oxfordshire district councils, after the city said it could not meet Oxford’s demand itself.

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But SODC’s leadership has been sceptical over the extent to which the city needs its help.

Mrs Cooper and Mr Bennett's letter said: “It would appear incongruous to use the future development of the Oxford-Cambridge corridor – and by implication the expressway – as a factor justifying a higher housing requirement, while at the same time stating publicly that you oppose the scheme.”

Ms Brown fired back: “The letter is based on a flawed understanding. Our response to the inspector’s questions made reference to the corridor and the government’s wider growth ambitions; however, this is not the basis for calculating Oxford’s need. The housing numbers evidenced in our Local Plan are based on Oxford’s need for affordable housing.”

Oxford Mail:

Oxford City Council leader Susan Brown.

In SODC's current draft Local Plan for housing, some South Oxfordshire land – notably at Grenoble Road and a site near the city council’s Barton Park development – would be used to help Oxford's housing need.

The previous SODC administration passed that draft to the government for inspection in March – but the Lib Dems and Greens had pledged to scrap it before they were elected.

However, if SODC does decide to scrap the plan, hundreds of millions of pounds of government funding could be lost.

Oxford Mail:

The authority recently cancelled meetings scheduled for September, claiming it needed more time to speak to government about its intentions and whether to change it.

That decision infuriated other authorities, including neighbouring Vale of White Horse District Council, which now fears £218m of government funding for new roads and a bridge in Didcot could be lost and that it could put it at the risk of speculative development.

Read more: Council wants to delay controversial homes plan but keep £218m of funding

One insider said they worried SODC seems to be intent on ‘crashing the plan’.

Another said: “I think it’s quite clear that from the position SODC has got itself into is that it wants to have its cake and eat it.

“[Councillors] want to keep the money but not deliver the housing that it’s related to. That is not just possible and everyone knows it’s not possible. The sooner they face up to that reality the clearer everyone will be.”

The £218m of Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) money from government is understood to be at risk, along with another £250m in the Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal.

Oxford Mail:

For months, council figures have worried that SODC’s attitude could mean that both deals fail. They believe the government would prefer to pull all money previously agreed rather than negotiate with Oxfordshire’s councils.

It has done so before: the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government agreed a £68m deal with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) to build affordable housing, but withdrew all the money after the GMCA said it would build 201,000 homes by 2034/5.

Both parties had agreed previously that 227,200 homes would be built.