OXFORDSHIRE won’t be part of a government scheme aiming to create areas where planning regulations are relaxed in an attempt to drive growth.

The government said that Investment Zones aim to ‘drive growth and unlock housing’, with sites benefiting from tax incentives, planning liberalisation, and wider support for the local economy.

But Councillor Liz Leffman, who leads Oxfordshire County Council, wrote a letter to Simon Clark, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, explaining why the council does not think the initiative was not the right move for the area.

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She said: “We have decided not to progress this opportunity. Oxfordshire continues to support many very exciting business developments, particularly in the areas of science and technology, so in writing a letter to government I wanted to explain the logic behind why we feel that applying for an investment zone does not fit with our ambitions.

“We consider that the de-regularisation of planning controls and reductions in environmental protection, which appear to be a condition of any investment zone, are incompatible with our net zero carbon aspirations and our commitment to protect and enhance biodiversity and environmental quality, as stated in our vision.

“Oxfordshire already has a successful and growing local economy built on the strengths of its world leading universities, science and technology base and locational advantages.

“We continue to support the creation of a high skill, high wage economy, which contributes significantly to the competitiveness of the UK, and we are proud that many of the UK’s leading research and innovation institutions are located here. We do not believe that an investment zone is needed to enhance this.”

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Councillor Susan Brown, who leads Oxford City Council, said it was ‘regrettable’ that the county council did not consult with other local authorities on the matter.

She said: “There is a lot that needs clarifying in the Investment Zone programme and we would not countenance anything that watered down important minimum requirements on quality, environmental standards or affordable housing.

“However, we do need to be able to engage with government about investment in infrastructure support growth which is happening in Oxford and Oxfordshire.”

Councillor Barry Wood, who leads Cherwell District Council, said the decision was ‘deeply disappointing’ and ‘a missed opportunity to bring the right jobs and growth to Oxfordshire.’

Cllr Wood said: “Cherwell District Council is very interested in submitting an expression of interest, as growth and investment are key priorities for the council, but under the formal process this has to be made via the county council, which will now not be possible.

“A great deal of work has gone in to preparing our submission, which makes today’s decision even more frustrating.

“How the county council can wait until today to make this bizarre decision is beyond me, especially when they knew how much work was going into this and other district councils’ submissions for this week’s deadline.”

Layla Moran, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, said she was very pleased with the decision.

She said: “Since the Government’s proposal was announced, hundreds of residents have contacted me urging me to oppose any lowering of our environmental standards. They have made it clear they will not accept watering down environmental regulations in the pursuit of growth.

“I believe in sustainable growth, not growth at any cost. The Government’s proposals look set to ride roughshod over important environmental protections and planning regulations.”

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This story was written by Anna Colivicchi, she joined the team this year and covers health stories for the Oxfordshire papers. 

Get in touch with her by emailing: Anna.colivicchi@newsquest.co.uk

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