ENVIRONMENTAL groups and conservationists are calling for an independent review of a plan designed to guide development in the county over the next 30 years, insisting it is “not fit for purpose”.

The plan, which is the brainchild of the county’s growth board – Future Oxfordshire Partnership – will set out a unified strategy for future homes and infrastructure. It could see up to 67,000 new homes built The Oxfordshire 2050 plan will be funded by a £215m Housing and Growth Deal and will seek to tackle climate change and the move to ‘zero carbon transport’. It will need the backing of all six Oxfordshire councils.

At present, no decisions have been made on the level of growth nor where that development should go, but comments from the consultation, insights into policy development issues, and existing national protections, such as the Green Belt, will all be considered.

The latest round of the consultation ended earlier this month.

Oxford Civic Society is one of several groups calling for an independent review to the whole approach to determine both housing and employment projections.

Ian Green, chairman of the group – which describes itself as an “independent voice for Oxford” – said: “The draft 2050 Plan proposes that three growth projections provided in a report prepared by consultants advising the Oxfordshire councils will be used as the basis for assessing the longer term need for housing growth, which in turn, will be used to assess the growth required for the Plan. “If the consultants’ projections are accepted, growth beyond the period of Local Plan effectiveness could increase the number of new homes needed in Oxfordshire by between 16,000 and 67,000. Unfortunately, there is widespread public scepticism concerning the projections. Oxford Civic Society is also sceptical. “An independent review of the whole approach to determining housing and employment projections is needed, along with substantial public discussion.”

The society said it stands ready to host such discussions.

Environmental groups from across the county also echoed the need for an independent review. Need Not Greed Oxfordshire, which is a coalition of 36 groups from across the county, said a review was needed on the Oxfordshire Growth Needs Assessment – a background paper providing evidence to support growth options.

Group member David Young said: “This document is complicated and obscure. We believe that to use the Oxfordshire Growth Needs Assessment as the basis for planning for the county for the next 30 years would be entirely inappropriate. “We think the only solution now is an independent peer-review of this document which is not fit for purpose.

“We are calling on the councillors and officers involved in the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 team to act quickly to put such a review in place.”

Katie Barratt, a member of Planning Oxfordshire’s Environmental and Transport Sustainability, also called on the paper to be reviewed.

Continued on Page 2 She said: “The growth needs assessment is very opaque and it does need to be much clearer, and we are very concerned that all the options rely on large numbers of people moving into the county, to live and work – far of excess of anything that has happened in the past.

“And one of the questions is where are people going to come from? We have a much tighter restriction on immigration into the country, is it going to be elsewhere in the UK? But what does that mean for the levelling up agenda if we are going to be attracting people to the South East.

“We are not given to pessimism about the future, and we are definitely not against growth, but what we want is a plan that’s more realistic and more achievable – a thorough review of the growth needs assessment, firm policies that put the climate emergency at the heart, supporting the strength of the Oxfordshire economy.”

Helen Marshall, chair of countryside charity CPRE Oxfordshire, said: “Affordable housing is one of the key issues for the county and the Oxfordshire 2050 plan is an opportunity to help put some policies in place – we call for the plans to build homes at a higher density, so houses are more affordable both to buy and to run.

“That will be an enormous benefit to us in environmental terms.

“Oxfordshire often builds itself as a leader in innovation and technology and world class, so why can’t we be leading in this as well – it can be done. We think that Oxfordshire should be challenging itself to be as good as it can be.”

Emily Smith, in her capacity as chair of the members advisory subgroup for the Future Oxfordshire Partnership said: “The latest consultation was an important part of the process of developing the Oxfordshire 2050 Plan. We are very grateful for all of the comments received and all of the councils and partners involved will carefully consider them before the final plan is prepared.”

A spokesperson for Future Oxfordshire Partnership said: “Within the consultation, three possible housing need scenarios were outlined for people to comment on, and for those interested in the technical data we published a draft Growth Needs Assessment that reflected the population forecasts made by the Office of National Statistics.

“However, it is not just about development, the consultation document also set out a range of policy ideas on how we might tackle climate change, deliver nature recovery, and get to zero carbon transport.

“Importantly, it also explored how best we can support the wellbeing of residents and the economy, as well as the affordability of homes.”