CREATING ‘15-minute cities’ is seen a crucial part of a mammoth plan which sets out how Oxford could look within the next 20 years.

Oxford City Council’s scrutiny committee this week analysed the options for the Oxford Local Plan 2040, a document which will be used to determine future planning applications.

A council report states that the Plan is ‘structured around the 15-minute city concept’, where key services will be within a 15-minute walk.

The report adds: “The Local Plan is important because through the policies it contains it shapes Oxford’s future development.

“The policies will guide new development to the right locations and in so doing seek to protect the natural and historic environment, seek to balance the housing and economic needs of the city, address the challenges of climate change whilst at the same time delivering sustainable development.”

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The Local Plan must set out a total housing requirement for the plan period, setting out the number of houses that are required to be delivered each year.

The Government checks delivery of housing in each planning authority and there are sanctions if the requirement is not met.

When work began on the 2040 Plan, it was expected that it would sit alongside the Oxfordshire Plan 2050.

However, councils across Oxfordshire were unable to agree on the key document, which would’ve set out where and how many houses would be built in the county.

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The city council report on the 2040 Plan states: “An Oxfordshire-wide assessment of housing needs had been an integral part of the Oxfordshire Plan work.

“A detailed assessment of the specific housing needs for Oxford will be commissioned to support the Local Plan, ideally working with as many of our neighbouring districts as possible.

“The Local Plan 2040 is based on the concept of the 15-minute city where the fullest possible range of facilities and services needed for our citizens to live well and healthily within a 15-minute walk of their home.”

The notion of the 15-minute city has been criticised though by the city council’s sole independent councillor, Saj Malik.

Oxford Mail: Oxford city councillor Saj Malik. Picture: Jon LewisOxford city councillor Saj Malik. Picture: Jon Lewis

He told this newspaper: “The county and city council have to stop telling people how to live.

“People are intelligent and should have freedom of choice, councils should give them the options rather than telling them how to live.

“People who run businesses don’t always want local trade, while pharmacies have a large delivery network.

“It’s not all about being within 15 minutes. In my point of view, this and other schemes are half-baked – pollution isn’t going actually going anywhere in Oxford, it still exists.”

The council report states ‘there is a huge and urgent need for new homes’ in the city, adding: “Oxford’s very high need for new housing means that general market prices are very expensive for both buying and renting.

“The challenges of finding accommodation mean that employers struggle to find and retain staff as people cannot afford to live and work in the city.

“Due to the constrained nature of the city, the need for housing and regeneration in certain areas, and the broad expanse of flood risk zones, it is unlikely that all development will be able to avoid flood risk entirely, and that some will take place in areas at risk from flooding.”

The report notes there are plans for 15,250 homes beyond the city’s boundary already allocated, including 3,000 south of Grenoble Road (South Oxfordshire), 2,200 at Salt Cross Garden Village (West Oxfordshire), and 1,950 at land east of the A44 (Cherwell).

Oxford Mail: An aerial view of the Salt Cross Garden Village site. Picture: West Oxfordshire District CouncilAn aerial view of the Salt Cross Garden Village site. Picture: West Oxfordshire District Council (Image: Newsquest)

Alex Hollingsworth, the city council’s cabinet member for planning and housing delivery, emphasised the magnitude of the 2040 Plan.

“Every council has to have a Local Plan which sets out planning over the next 20 years or so,” he said.

“It sets out the needs for housing, infrastructure and so on.

“It’s a really big part of any council’s strategy documents, it’s a really important way of setting our priorities over the next 20 years.

“The Oxfordshire 2050 Plan was set supposed to sit as a layer above this, but it’s not happening and that’s a regret.”

Oxford Mail: Alex Hollingsworth, the city council’s cabinet member for planning and housing delivery. Picture: Jon LewisAlex Hollingsworth, the city council’s cabinet member for planning and housing delivery. Picture: Jon Lewis

The council’s cabinet will, at its meeting on September 14, consider a ‘preferred options’ report on the Plan.

The preferred options document offers policy options, and potential positive and negative outcomes of such options.

The cabinet is requested to approve the preferred options document for consultation, with a first round to take place in October and November, before another in January and next autumn.

The council aims to adopt the Plan in spring 2025.

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This story was written by Liam Rice, he joined the team in 2019 as a multimedia reporter.

Liam covers politics, travel and transport. He occasionally covers Oxford United.

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