A BID to redraw the boundaries of Oxford’s Green Belt has been rejected by a planning inspector because of the risk of “urban sprawl” from Wheatley to Cowley.

South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) wants Berinsfield and the Wheatley area removed from the Green Belt to help the council meet its house building targets.

But an inspector has delivered a major blow to the strategy, warning it would lead to “urban encroachment” into the countryside around Oxford.

However, while rejecting the proposal of extending Wheatley into green land, the inspector has cleared the way for redrawing the Green Belt boundary at Berinsfield.

The council’s bid for a redrawing of the Green Belt south of Oxford caused bitter divisions between those wanting to see large villages taking a share of new housing and those who warn it will clear the way for unchecked development.

It has also seen SODC accused of double standards, having earlier fought the Oxford City Council-backed bid to build 8,000 homes south of Grenoble Road on grounds it would encroach onto Green Belt land.

In his preliminary conclusions on a Green Belt review, planning inspector Roy Foster warned the council: “Particular caution would need to be exercised in any proposed relaxation of Green Belt controls on the eastern edge of Oxford since Horspath, Littleworth and Wheatley already form close ‘beads on a string’ of development extending east from Cowley.

“The local communities understandably place significant value on the narrow breaks between these settlements, considering such gaps are important contributors to their independent characters and an indicator of the Green Belt fulfilling its purpose.

“The implication of the (SODC) Core Strategy is that Wheatley would be extended eastwards down to Wheatley Bridge. This would emphasise Oxford related sprawl and urban encroachment into the countryside... offending two of the Green Belt’s five main purposes.”

Wheatley Conservative councillor Janet Carr said: “People in the village are going to be very happy about the inspector’s conclusions. The fear for many was that we would see executive type houses appearing for commuters.

“There was real concern that it would open up a whole side of the village for development with a real impact on village life.”

Berinsfield councillor Philip Cross said: “The council campaigned vigorously to stop the expansion of Oxford at Grenoble Road. In my view we have adequate sites for new housing within the major towns in south Oxfordshire.”

Helena Whall, campaigns manager for CPRE Oxfordshire, said: “The inspector has accepted our case that the extension of Wheatley would cause a string of development from Horspath to the M40.”

Last year SODC set out where 10,000 homes should be built across the district. It was forced to revise its proposals after a planning inspector said it could no long rely on “windfall” sites to meet housing needs. Hearings into South Oxfordshire’s Core Strategy are set to resume in November.

Angie Paterson, SODC member for planning, said: “We know housing is needed in the district. We have the responsibility for providing for that. We also know that Wheatley has particular housing needs.

“But it would be wrong for us to make any premature decision until the second phase of the hearing has taken place.”