By Sue Roberts, Green Party councillor on South Oxfordshire District Council.

On Friday, Chobham Common in Surrey burst into flames, with fire spreading over 140 hectares of countryside.

Residents were evacuated from their homes and roads were closed.

The fire reached Wentworth Golf Club.

This heatwave has brought record high temperatures to Italy and Spain. Southern France and California are ablaze.

2020 is squaring up to be the hottest year ever recorded in the UK, and whilst temperatures of 35ºC and over have been seen in other years for one or two days, it is unprecedented that they continue as they are doing right now, over several days.

Climate breakdown has not gone away during Covid-19. And yet the Government’s Green Recovery from the pandemic has morphed into Build Build Build. No longer is there a pretence of building for ‘much-needed homes’; the housing minister, Robert Jenrick, with his dubious levels of probity, has been forcing a massive expansion in development explicitly for economic recovery.

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How does this work exactly? Here in South Oxfordshire only 8,000 of the 40,000 homes planned between 2011 and 2035 can be filled, according to the Office for National Statistics. Fine, so we are building 32,000 homes to add to our empty-home stock purely to keep builders building? I don’t think so. As interest rates go negative once again, international investors can raise debt (out of thin air) with minuscule interest payments, buy up our land and our homes and leave them empty for price growth, or fill them with tenants to pay the debt they have raised. We are paying international investors to own our land. We have become bond slaves in our own homes.

Mr Jenrick and Mr Johnson are now busily tearing up what miserable planning law remains after the last bonfire in 2012. You will of course recall that Robert Jenrick forbade our district council from doing what it was specifically elected to do, withdrawing the exaggerated Local Plan 2011 to 2035. We have been directed to force this through inspection and to adopt it.

The Guardians of South Oxfordshire is a group of councillors and members of the community speaking up for the wellbeing of existing and future residents of the district, for nature, for our farming industry, and for action on climate change. We have had the most gruelling month in the quasi-legal setting of Hearings on the Local Plan. At the first of these, I asked Mr Bore, the inspector, how he could be independent when the Secretary of State insists that the plan cannot fail. He assured me that he was. So that is good.

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And yet at his summing up on Friday (just as Chobham exploded into an inferno) he showed no intention to protect our now lost Green Belt, and gave the green light to further building in Wallingford. Where Wallingford had been allocated 15% more homes, which the thousand to come to our west side already exceeds, he altered our future by adding three words to the Plan. No longer “15%” but now “a minimum of 15%.”

The Guardians know that nearly doubling the housing in South Oxfordshire, over the next 15 years is unnecessary; it is unsafe as it will create large greenhouse gas emissions in construction and operation of the homes; it is probably illegal in terms of the Climate Change Act, and it creates insecurity: it takes land from its natural state where it provides us with pollination, flood control, local climate control, and much more; and from farming just when food security considerations demand that we grow more food locally.

Mr Bore listened patiently whilst I explained that we in South East England are the Custodians of most of the world’s chalk streams, and much of the world’s chalklands. Chalk makes up our Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). Outside Britain it is found only in France, Texas, Greenland and Asia. We are the Custodians of unique ecosystems that should not be destroyed.

But Mr Bore has allowed no changes to our environmental or climate policies in the Local Plan.

The new plan insists that 23,500 of the 40,000 homes are built by 2035. This is 10,000 homes more than we are working to at the moment (that is three Wallingfords more). The minute the Plan gets adopted our housing land supply will drop from 10 years to five years. That means we can show that developers can meet our targets for only the next five years. If they slow the rate of build, perhaps because the housing market dips, then the ‘housing land supply’ is said to fail and developers can make speculative applications for even more development land. With Wallingford now open for speculation as we have to build a minimum of 15%, we can expect a heady time.

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Lee Upcraft, Beryl Guiver, Sue Cooper and I spoke up for Wallingford at last Wednesday’s hearings. We explained how Wallingford was struggling to accommodate rapid growth. During the plan period, Wallingford will grow by 1,500 homes, almost a half, one new home for every two we had in 2011. So far, since then, we have built 400 and already our health centre if over-stretched, primary school children are being bussed out of town, and Wallingford School is turning away our own children.

We guardians were speaking against top development lawyers, Queen’s Councils or ‘silks’ who twisted the truth for their paymasters, leaving the Guardians wondering “Is there a special circle of hell reserved for developers’ lawyers”?

Judy Dewey, Beryl and Sue Hendry had fed me with the stories of the immense importance of Wallingford. It has been continuously settled since the Iron Age; it has the finest surviving mediaeval urban townscape of any small town in the county; St Alfred’s Saxon fortifications are unique in their completeness. The town was of high importance from the Norman conquest to the Civil War, with only the Tower of London and Windsor Castle equal to our Wallingford Castle. However, the need to protect this, and Wallingford’s nationally important landscape as a setting for the AONBs, seemed to cut no ice with the Inspector.

We’ve seen a massive rise in traffic since 2011 and can expect more to come, with the bypass overloaded and air pollution still killing perhaps 20 Wallingfordians a year. Plans have been refused in other places before now on air pollution grounds, but not here where the goose lays golden eggs for international investors.

Our ancient heritage means combined storm water and sewage drains, which flood our homes during flood and discharge pollutants into the Thames during drought. The starvation of funds to Local Authorities makes me wonder whether our pool and splashpad will ever reopen. Instead, we cool off in the river, taking our lives in our hands as we swim in the abundance of antibiotics, bacteria, viruses, hormones, phosphates and nitrates.

Regarding food security, we have already lost our western reaches from agriculture: two big arable fields. Farming Today last week said that the winter floods and the dry spring has decimated our wheat yield in the UK; it is down by a third. Why are we building on our precious farmland?

There are tough times ahead, and Wallingford, and South Oxfordshire, have been betrayed by a Government lining the pockets of its billionaire friends.