THE GOVERNMENT has told an Oxfordshire council that it could take over the running of its controversial homes plan hours before the authority was set to scrap it tonight.

South Oxfordshire District Council’s (SODC) cabinet last week agreed it would urge councillors to write off its current Local Plan at a meeting tonight and prepare another. 

But the communities secretary said he is now considering whether to take it over and out of the council's control.  

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It includes plans to build thousands of homes on contentious sites, including Grenoble Road, Culham and Chalgrove Airfield. 

The decision has infuriated some South Oxfordshire district councillors who feel that building 28,500 new homes before 2034 is excessive. A new plan could cost £2m. The current plan has already cost about £3.6m. 

The government had told SODC and other Oxfordshire authorities that hundreds of millions of pounds of funding for the county would be at risk now and in the future if the plan was scrapped.  

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Communities secretary Robert Jenrick told SODC’s leader Sue Cooper that he is ‘considering whether to give a direction’ to the council on how to proceed with the plan under planning law. 

In a letter seen by the Oxford Mail, Mr Jenrick states: “The government remains committed to making sure every community has an up-to-date and sufficiently ambitious Local Plan. Withdrawing the Plan at this stage is instead likely to create uncertainty and expose communities to speculative planning applications.”

He orders the council ‘not to take any step in connection with the adoption of the Plan, while I consider the matter further.’

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Several council leaders had planned to speak at SODC’s meeting from 6pm, urging that the Local Plan was revised and not scrapped.

In March 2018, all Oxfordshire councils agreed to sign up to the Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal with government. As part of that, the authorities were told they will be given funding – and an initial £215m - to help them build 100,000 homes into the mid-2030s. 

But in local elections in May, Conservatives in South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse lost heavily. 

Liberal Democrats in Vale and Lib Dems and Greens in South Oxfordshire who replaced them want to build fewer homes across the county. 

An MHCLG spokesman said: “Communities should expect their councils to have a local plan that sets out their ambition for home-building in their area.

“The secretary of state has issued a holding direction today that prevents South Oxfordshire Council from withdrawing their Local Plan. We will now work with the council to discuss next steps.”

More to follow.