THREE weeks of meetings which could decide how and where houses will be built in Oxford in the future have started.

The public enquiry into the Oxford Local Plan 2036 began yesterday at the King’s Centre on Osney Mead Industrial Estate.

Government appointed planning inspectors Jonathan Bore and Nick Fagan are holding the meetings to hear from Oxford City Council and people across Oxfordshire who will be affected by the plans.

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A local plan is a document which every council has to produce to give guidance about where new houses, offices, and other buildings can be built in the future, usually over a period of around 15 years.

Discussion on the first day of Oxford City Council’s drafted local plan centred around questions of housing need.

In the plan, Oxford City Council has said an estimated 1,400 new affordable homes need to be built to meet the city’s needs.

As there is only a limited amount of land in the city, a lot of this would be built on land in neighbouring council districts: Cherwell, Vale of White Horse, South Oxfordshire, and West Oxfordshire.

The inspectors asked a panel of Oxford City Council staff and representatives of residents from the neighbouring areas questions about the need for housing.

These questions included whether the city council’s estimates of 1,400 a year were justifiable, how the council had calculated the need affordable homes, if this calculation was deemed to be ‘sound’, and what are the environmental constraints on the house building plans.

City council planning officer Carolyn Ploszynski, started off the discussion and said the plan was the result of many years work.

Ms Ploszynski said: “[The plan] is supported by an extensive evidence base and at its heart seeks to strike a balance in meeting the competing needs of the community.”

She added there were pressures of affordability in Oxford’s housing market.

Alan Lodwick, speaking for the Cherwell Development Watch Alliance, said he had concerns about how the city council had arrived at the target of 1,400 homes a year.

Mr Lodwick said he thought the basis for the target came from a 2014 report called the Strategic Housing Market Assessment, which had been prepared by councils across Oxfordshire working together.

He said an update produced by the city council in 2018 had put estimates for housing need at a lower target of 776, and questioned why this had not been followed.

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Mr Lodwick described the level of growth being proposed by the city council as unprecedented since the building of the new towns in the 1950s and 60s.

Responding later in the meeting, Ms Ploszynski said the 1,400 figure was backed up by further preparatory work for the local plan.

Speaking on behalf of Kidlington Town Council, Deirdre Wells of Red Kite Development Consultancy said the town’s authority was worried about the effects of Oxford’s housing need spilling over into neighbouring areas, including Kidlington.

Other speakers included Ian Middleton, a Green councillor on Cherwell District Council currently running for MP in Banbury.

Mr Middleton expressed concerns about whether housing targets were based on actual need on the ground, or the policy ambitions of the city council to bring more workers into Oxford.

The panel went on to discuss how there is a limited amount of land available to build in Oxford, and how to balance the need for building with a new focus on environmental needs.

The public hearings will continue for the next three weeks, focussing on different elements of the city council’s local plan.

After the hearings, inspectors will write a report to Oxford City Council, setting out what parts of the plan they think are legally sound, and which parts need to be changed.