THE RULING majority of a council has been lost after two councillors resigned when a controversial housing plan was passed.

And in the aftermath of the Local Plan being adopted, the South Oxfordshire District Council’s Liberal Democrat leader has faced calls to resign her post from the Conservative opposition.

SODC voted to adopt its controversial and long-delayed Local Plan at a meeting last Thursday.

The document designates land in the district where new homes can be built, totalling 30,000 homes, many of which are on land previously designated as Green Belt around Oxford.

The council’s ruling Lib Dem-Green coalition had hoped to scrap the Plan because they disagreed with building so many homes in rural areas.

But they were stopped from doing so by the Government last year.

Last Thursday, many of the Lib Dems joined Conservative and Labour opposition groups to vote in favour of adopting the plan.

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A total of 17 councillors voted for it, while seven including council leader Sue Cooper voted against it.

Nine councillors abstained, including all but one of the Green Party group.

Former Green councillor Sue Roberts resigned from the party to sit as an independent councillor after voting against the Plan.

Sarah Gray, formerly a Lib Dem, also resigned from her party after she voted against the Plan.

The two have now joined former Conservative councillor Elizabeth Gillespie in a new group on the council called the South Oxfordshire Residents Team, or SORT.

SORT describe themselves as ‘working co-operatively across South Oxfordshire Council, to protect and restore our unique and ancient heritage and our natural world, to reduce carbon emissions, and to stand up for the people of South Oxfordshire’.

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South Oxfordshire District Council and Vale of White Horse District Council offices. Picture: Damian Halliwell.

Dr Roberts said she hoped the new group could do ‘great things’ outside of the administration, after having been critical of restrictions on the leadership in a speech last week.

She added: “I want to see us working in a united manner with the administration. A good relationship.”

The council’s Lib Dem leader Sue Cooper acknowledged her party’s coalition with the Greens no longer held an overall majority on the council and said they would have to work with other parties on an ‘issue by issue basis’.

She added: “Our majority is lost, but of course there is a by-election next May.”

The Didcot North East seat will be filled during the 2021 local elections.

Ms Cooper had faced calls to resign from the council’s Conservative opposition leader, Jane Murphy.

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In a letter Ms Murphy said: “In light of your consistent opposition to the South Oxfordshire Local Plan, we have real concerns about your capacity to lead its implementation. We ask that you, and those of your coalition who have felt unable to support its adoption, now step aside and allow it to be taken forward by your colleagues who do share its vision.”

But Ms Cooper replied she would not resign, as the council had other priorities which she did support.

She said: “The Local Plan is an important part of the work of the District Council, but it is by no means the only plan we have to deliver.

“We have the Council’s unanimously agreed and widely-supported Corporate Plan. We have undertaken to deliver a wide range of projects and to report back to our residents on our progress with this, and we believe that it is important to carry out our commitments.”

According to the SODC website, there are currently 12 Liberal Democrat group councillors and five Green group councillors together forming a coalition partnership.

Alongside them, there are nine Conservative group councillors, three Labour group councillors, three Henley Residents' Group councillors, three South Oxfordshire Residents Team councillors, and one vacancy.

The newly adopted Local Plan makes room for a total of 30,000 new homes, but around 16,000 of these are already either being built or have planning permission.

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