TOO many homes could be built on untouched countryside in north Oxfordshire, a group of experts has warned.

POETS, a group of planning and environmental experts from Oxfordshire, has written a letter to housing secretary Robert Jenrick in the wake of public hearings into Oxford City Council’s local plan in December.

The letter, sent on Sunday, said green belt land where Cherwell District Council hopes to build 4,400 homes should be protected at all costs.

The group has called for a second look at Cherwell’s local plan 2031.

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This is in sharp contrast to the situation of South Oxfordshire District Council, which wants to take back control of its plan after being temporarily banned from talking about it by the housing secretary.

A local plan is a document in which a council sets out the areas of land where new homes, offices and other buildings can be built.

Oxford Mail:

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick,

When Oxford City Council’s local plan was examined by two government inspectors at the end of last year, the council proved it needed 10,844 new homes within the city limits by citing a report called the Strategic Market Housing Assessment.

The SHMA was originally written in 2014, but Oxford City Council used an updated version from 2018 to prove its case to the inspectors.

POETS has said that Cherwell should also be allowed to use the figures from the 2018 SHMA update, instead of ploughing ahead with the 4,400 homes on green belt land north of the city as set out in the 2014 version.

When Cherwell’s local plan was agreed in 2015, this was the number of homes which the council said it would build to help meet the needs of Oxford, which is set to grow beyond the current city boundaries.

In its letter, POETS also said: “Given the climate emergency that both central and local government now recognise, there is a stronger than ever case for conserving green space that can provide biodiversity and other benefits.”

POETS added the government’s commitment to protecting green belt land could be doubted if the plan was not re-examined.

Cherwell started to undertake a partial review of its local plan in 2017, with the aim of making sure the district was building enough homes to meet the needs of Oxford.

A spokesman for Cherwell District Council said: "The council is aware that a letter has been sent to the Secretary of State concerning the Partial Review of the Cherwell Local Plan. It is for the Secretary of State to reply.

"The Partial Review of the Local Plan has been consulted on extensively and subjected to examination in public by an independent Inspector.

"The issues of housing need and the Green Belt have been central to the Inspector’s consideration. In July 2019 he advised that the Plan was ‘sound’ in principle on those matters."

Oxford Mail:

A map of Oxford's green belt. Picture: Open Street Map.

They added: "The Inspector had concerns about one site which lies outside the Green Belt (land south east of Woodstock) and the Council consulted on proposed modifications to address this (8 November to 20 December). Once the modifications have been formally submitted to the Inspector, he will complete the examination and write his full report.

"A separate examination has been taking place for Oxford City Council’s Local Plan. Oxford’s housing need, its housing capacity and the relationship to the wider Oxfordshire area have been considered and the Inspectors’ interim conclusions have been published.

"Once the Cherwell Inspector has provided his report, the Council will have the opportunity to consider his final recommendations."

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In July last year, Cherwell district councillors discussed whether or not they should delay the partial review until after the neighbouring city council’s local plan had been agreed.

But the motion by Green councillors Ian Middleton was voted down.

Instead, councillors agreed to maintain the number of homes required to meet Oxford’s needs, but to look again at the areas where they would be built.

South Oxfordshire District Council's leader Sue Cooper sent a letter to Mr Jenrick earlier this month calling for face-to-face meetings to resolve the stalement over its local plan.

The council is currently expecting a reply.