A PLAN which sets out where thousands of new homes will be built in South Oxfordshire is set to be adopted by councillors who wanted to scrap it.

South Oxfordshire District Council is being recommended to adopt the draft Local Plan 2035 when it meets next Thursday.

The recommendation comes after a struggle lasting more than a year, in which the council’s Liberal Democrat and Green leadership tried to change the plan.

The council chief in charge of planning said the document’s journey had been an ‘emotive’ one.

The Local Plan is a document that sets aside land where new homes can be built in the next 15 years, with a total of 28,500 new houses planned in this one.

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Many of these homes would be in Green Belt land, which is a patch of countryside surrounding Oxford where building is not meant to take place unless in special circumstances.

Work on the document began in 2014 under the then-Conservative run council.

The number of homes and the locations they should be built were decided by this group of councillors, but were also influenced by larger plans for the whole of Oxfordshire, not just the district.

For example, the Local Plan makes allowance for building extra homes to meet ‘Oxford’s unmet need’: houses needed for Oxford’s population which cannot be built within the city boundaries because of space constraints.

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Protesters, including councillors, opposing the Local Plan in January

A new Lib Dem and Green coalition was voted into power in 2019, and tried to scrap the plan.

This was because the two parties promised in their election manifestos to look again at the plan, because they saw the number of homes and the locations they were being built as damaging to the environment.

But the Government’s minister for housing, communities and local government, Robert Jenrick, stepped in and prevented the new council throwing it out.

Instead, they were told they had to pass the plan by December this year.

After being inspected by an independent planning expert, the plan is now ready to be legally adopted as the blueprint for where homes should be built.

This however, has angered campaigners who want to see the countryside preserved, and residents who will see new estates added to their villages.

Professor Richard Harding, the chairman of the Campaign to Protect Rural England South Oxfordshire branch, said: “CPRE Oxfordshire cannot endorse this Plan, which vastly exaggerates housing numbers, fractures our Green Belt and does not reflect the wishes of South Oxfordshire residents.”

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“If it is adopted, the housing targets will be so high that we could very quickly be in a situation where delivery fails to keep up, opening the door to speculative development. But failure to adopt will mean there is no up-to-date Local Plan, so developers will still rule the roost.

“Plus, there is the risk of the Secretary of State stepping in and removing local planning powers altogether. The situation is a mess and offers no good choices.”

A group of residents living on the Sandhills estate on the edge of Oxford are also concerned about how building on Green Belt countryside land north of their homes will affect a local wildlife reserve.

Sydlings Copse, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), sits north of the estate.

Spokeswoman for the group Ginette Camps-Walsh said: “Our parishes and communities will fight this plan all the way. We urge the SODC councillors to vote against approval of this plan.

“It has no local democratic mandate. Land north of Bayswater Brook is unsuitable for development with flooding and horrendous traffic problems, but we think the worst part of it is the wanton destruction of the Green Belt, countryside and risk to Sydlings Copse and College Pond.”

Oxford Mail:

Anne-Marie Simpson

Anne-Marie Simpson, cabinet member for planning at South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “The story of this plan began in 2014 before a number of our councillors had even been elected, including me.

“It began its journey in a very different time, under a previous administration operating under very different corporate objectives. It’s been a long process and for many an understandably emotive one.”

She added: “I want to thank every member of the public, every organisation and councillor who has contributed whether through written submissions or in person at the country’s first ever virtual strategic plan inspection.

“Our officers have worked incredibly hard over the past six years through was has often been a difficult and challenging process. I want to thank them for their commitment and diligence.”

The Local Plan will be discussed by the SODC cabinet on Tuesday, December 8, and by full council on Thursday, December 10.