MORE than 10,000 homes could be built in Oxford during the next 16 years, including on untouched countryside, but some have warned of the 'peril' it could cause the local environment.

A brief report from government planning inspectors was published yesterday, outlining their initial response to Oxford City Council’s Local Plan for 2016-2036.

The two inspectors, Jonathan Bore and Nick Fagan, held a three-week public examination into the plan in December, considering opinions from the council and residents about where new homes and businesses should be built in Oxford in the future.

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Since the release of the report, called an interim conclusion, there have been warnings and disappointment from some, who feel that the plan is irresponsible and could lead to urban sprawl.

Helen Marshall, director at the Campaign to Protect Rural England Oxfordshire, warned about the dangers of building on green belt land especially, and said the land has a ‘vital function in protecting the character of Oxford.’

Oxford Mail:

Helen Marshall. Picture: Denis Kennedy.

Meanwhile, city councillors have heralded the inspectors' conclusions as a success, though they were mindful the full report is yet to be published.

Cabinet member for Planning and Sustainable Transport, Alex Hollingsworth, drew attention to the serious need for affordable housing in Oxford.

The council suggested during the examination that building on green belt land could be an important part of meeting this need.

Planning inspectors are appointed by the government to make sure that local plans are legally sound, and can recommend changes to councils’ proposals, known as ‘main modifications.’

The interim conclusions by the two inspectors said no changes were needed to plans to build 1,400 homes a year between 2016 and 2036.

They also accepted the council’s total housing need figure of 10,884 homes to be built by 2036.

The conclusion said the council should continue to look at building new homes and businesses on brownfield sites in the city.

But the inspectors added the council’s case for building on untouched countryside around Oxford, known as the green belt, had been made, as there were ‘exceptional circumstances’ for housing need in the city.

Ms Marshall of CPRE Oxfordshire warned against building on green belt.

She said: “CPRE believes that the Oxford green belt performs a vital function in protecting the character and sitting of the city and surrounding villages.

Ms Marshall added: “It is going to play an increasingly important role in tackling and mitigating climate change so it is a fantastic resource.

“The English countryside is the envy of world when they look at English planning and the way we manage green belt to prevent urban sprawl, and we mess with it at our peril.”

Oxford Mail:

A map of green belt land surrounding Oxford, some of which is outside the control of the city council. Picture: via Open Street Map/ Creative Commons Licence.

Meanwhile, South Oxfordshire District Council’s leader Sue Cooper had a mixed response to the plans.

The city’s local plan will have an effect on other districts in Oxfordshire, as their local plans have had to make room for homes of people who commute into Oxford.

SODC is the only council in Oxfordshire which has not currently adopted a new local plan.

Ms Cooper said: “This does at least give us a measure of certainty. It is slightly disappointing that the inspectors are still accepting what in some eyes is the discredited strategic housing market assessment data, but it is good to have an idea about the numbers of houses we are expected to provide.”

SODC is currently prevented from discussing its local plan by the government, for fear the authority had planned to scrap it and risk millions of pounds of funding for new homes to be spent across Oxfordshire in partnership with other councils.

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City councillor Alex Hollingsworth thanked the planning inspectors for the interim conclusions.

He said: “Oxford has a housing crisis and we have got limited space to build new homes within the city boundaries. The Local Plan is the culmination of a long period of work between the City Council and partners, including the other councils of Oxfordshire.

Oxford Mail:

Alex Hollingsworth.

He added: “We are now keen to deliver this plan and the housing, including new council housing, and jobs that it will help deliver for Oxford’s people.”

Though the interim conclusions vindicated the council’s housing plans, it said very little about council plans for new business premises, or the plans to bring Oxford Stadium back into use.

The two inspectors are likely to publish their full report later this month.