A CONTROVERSIAL council plan – which councillors worry could cause the collapse of deals worth hundreds of millions of pounds – has cost £3.6m so far, it can be revealed.

Senior council figures across Oxfordshire share profound concerns over the approach South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) has taken over its Local Plan. They fear it could mean the collapse of the £250m Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal and the loss of £218m of other government funding for Didcot.

That worry swelled within councils after SODC said it would wait until October to formally discuss its Local Plan again, cancelling proposed meetings for September.

SODC’s spending is double the £1.8m its neighbour Vale of White Horse District Council has spent on its own Local Plan.

According to details obtained through a Freedom of Information request, SODC said it had spent £2.1m on staff, £1.2m on consultants and studies and a further £58,920 on legal advice. Another £185,894 accounts for miscellaneous costs, which could also include other staff costs, the authority said.

READ AGAIN: Cancelled South Oxfordshire District Council meetings cause new development worries

The details came to light days after an extraordinary row between Oxford City Council and SODC’s leaders, which left senior figures at the former furious.

The city council was accused by SODC’s Liberal Democrat leader Sue Cooper of supporting the unpopular Oxford-Cambridge expressway ‘by implication’ of backing further growth between the university cities in the future.

Mrs Cooper’s stance, which was supported by its Green cabinet member for development and regeneration Robin Bennett, stems from SODC’s concern that the city council wants to build too many new homes.

The city wants other Oxfordshire authorities to build homes to fulfil Oxford’s ‘unmet need’ because it claims it cannot meet demand in the city itself.

Mrs Cooper and Mr Bennett wrote to the city council’s leader, Susan Brown, after her authority replied to queries from planning inspectors.

They wrote: “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 accused them of misunderstanding a critical part of her authority’s plan.

She wrote back: “[SODC’s] letter is based on a flawed understanding. Our response to the inspectors’ 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 evidence in our Local Plan are based on Oxford’s need for affordable housing.”

READ MORE: Ed Vaizey: Lib Dems may put Oxfordshire at risk of bad housing

Other councils have been accommodating of Oxford City Council’s need for more homes. South Oxfordshire’s previous Conservative administration had been too but May’s local elections saw Lib Dems and Greens take control.

Conservative and Labour councillors said worries about speculative development in the absence of a Local Plan have been proved after consultants submitted a scoping opinion over a potential 530-home development in Cholsey last week.

Property company the Leavesley Group said it wants to build up to 350 homes on the land, off Papist Way. That would be supplemented by an 80-bedroom care home and other accommodation for older people.

A business centre and health centre could also be built, along with another 100 ‘sheltered dwellings for the elderly’.

There are concerns similar developments could sweep the district if no Local Plan is adopted. It is likely developers’ plans could win planning permission on appeal even if councillors reject them.

Councils across Oxfordshire have been frustrated by the attitude SODC has taken over recent months. One insider said they worried it was intent on ‘crashing the plan’ involving the Growth Deal and another £218m in Housing Infrastructure Fund money for Didcot.

Earlier this month, Vale of White Horse District Council’s deputy leader Debby Hallett told SODC that the lack of a Local Plan could open her district up to speculative development.

According to Ms Hallett’s council, by August 16 it had spent £929,545 on staff who had worked on its Local Plan.

It spent £195,546 on legal advice and another £606,803 on consultants and studies. It also spent £77,807 on other miscellaneous costs.

West Oxfordshire District Council said it spent £610,013 on its Local Plan, which was adopted in September 2018.

Oxford City Council and Cherwell District Council have not yet provided details regarding the cost of their Local Plans.