COUNCILLORS in South Oxfordshire have said they are stuck in limbo after the government made a shock intervention to stop them scrapping their own housing plan.

South Oxfordshire District Council was stopped from throwing out its Local Plan by Housing, Communities and Local Government secretary Robert Jenrick less than 24 hours before a meeting last Thursday.

Since then, the council has not had any update from the minister and is unable to discuss the future of housing in the district until Mr Jenrick decides what should happen next.

Council leader Sue Cooper said: “We have had no update really – we are effectively gagged until the secretary of state makes a decision.”

Mrs Cooper added there had been no indication of when a decision would be made.

She said: “We are sort of left in limbo.”

Oxford Mail:

South Oxfordshire District Council leader Sue Cooper.

Councillors and residents booed and shouted that the minister was acting like a ‘dictator’ at SODC’s meeting on Thursday.

Read again: Boos during key South Oxfordshire District Council Local Plan meeting

Oxfordshire's five district councils agreed a plan with government in March 2018 to build 100,000 by the mid-2030s, in return for infrastructure funding.

However at the local elections in May, the Conservatives who ran South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils were kicked out by Liberal Democrats and Greens.

Now the Lib Dem-Greens coalition running South Oxfordshire have said the current plan would see too many new homes in their district.

The Local Plan includes proposals to build thousands of homes on contentious sites, including Grenoble Road in Oxford, Culham village and Chalgrove Airfield.

Oxford Mail:

Picture: Damian Halliwell.

The Government had told SODC and other Oxfordshire authorities that if the plan were scrapped, £215million of funding for the county through the Oxfordshire Growth Deal would be at risk.

In a statement made following Mr Jenrick’s decision last week, council leader Mrs Cooper said it was 'an unacceptable intervention of national government into local democracy'.

Following the meeting, she emphasised the issues the council were able to discuss at the meeting were an ‘important part of the local democratic process.’

These issues included plans to help EU nationals living in the district post-Brexit, restricting access on new bridge over the River Thames from Reading to only public transport, cyclists and pedestrians, and adopting an aim to reach net-zero carbon emissions on all council operations by 2025.

The leader’s sentiments about the Government intervention were echoed by Green councillor Sue Roberts, who said: “Mark this date, October 9, 2019: this is the date local democracy died.

“This is the Government riding roughshod over the wishes of local people and spurning the normal democratic processes.”

Oxford Mail:

Robert Jenrick, Housing, Communities and Local Government secretary.

Yesterday, Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet approved the final details of a scheme to improve roads in and around Didcot which is linked to £218million funding from the Government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund.

Earlier in the year, SODC sought assurance the HIF money would not be jeopardised if it scrapped the local plan.

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

Layla Moran, Lib Dem MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, has written to government minister Mr Jenrick calling for ‘considered discussion, and compromise’ over the South Oxfordshire Local Plan.

The MP said that Mr Jenrick’s actions were 'being seen as very heavy handed'.

Ms Moran reassured the Government that the SODC Cabinet’s desire to withdraw the plan will not affect planned housing levels in and around Didcot, and so will not compromise the County Council’s HIF bid to Whitehall.

The MP said: “There’s no excuse for this level of interference from the Government, and I have urged the Secretary of State to get around the table with Oxfordshire’s council leaders to come to a pragmatic solution.”