Matthew Barber, the leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, says hard choices over housing development cannot be avoided

THE story of the Vale’s local plan is a long one and would be familiar to communities up and down the country. Over recent years and decades not enough homes have been built.

At the time the pressure seemed low, difficult decisions were postponed, the previous council even asked for permission from the Secretary of State to delay writing a new plan.

Now the world has changed. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the years of under supply and the failure to put a new Local Plan in place have caught up with us.

Just over a year ago we consulted on the first draft of our plan. At the time the housing numbers were based on the best available evidence – the South East Regional Plan figures.

Since then those housing targets have been rescinded and a new figure has emerged from Oxfordshire’s own Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA).

The result is that on top of the 13,130 homes that had previously been identified, the SHMA increases the total by 7,430, bringing the total to 20,560.

This is a huge amount of housing and will mean a huge increase in population over the period to 2031.

The results of the SHMA are certainly unwelcome, and we will critically assess the strengths and weaknesses of the figures they present us with.

What we cannot do however is to ignore them. If we fail to face up to this challenge now we will face even worse consequences in the future.

In order to deal with this additional pressure we have consulted on 21 sites for housing across the district.

The majority of these are near where we expect the majority of the new jobs to be created, but we have also had to consider housing in other parts of the Vale, including in the Green Belt and the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

During the series of public meetings and exhibitions we have held as part of the consultation, we have often described these proposals as the ‘least worst’.

We understand they are unlikely to be welcomed by the communities identified, but our view in setting out the proposals is that they are the best and most realistic proposals available.

We do not claim to have a monopoly on wisdom and the consultation has raised some important points that we will seek to address.

Our consultation has now closed, and we expect that there will be changes as a result, having listened to the views of residents.

Whilst we analyse more than 1,500 responses we will continue to meet with parish councils and local campaign groups to discuss the issues raised as part of the consultation.

Over the next few months we will scrutinise the new housing figures closely, and look in detail at the experience of other councils up and down the country to see what lessons can be learnedOxford Mail: .Radley residents hold a protest at Vale of White Horse District Council's Abingdon headquarters against the possible building of 800 homes in the village

We must ensure that plans are in place for the infrastructure (for example new roads and schools) that will be required to deal with the impact of these new homes.

We will properly assess the alternatives that are put forward to ensure we set the Vale on the right course for the future.

Only after we have done all of those things will we then be able to publish our next, and hopefully final, consultation before submitting the plan to the Inspector.

The choices that have to be made over the coming months will not be easy, but they cannot be avoided. We have to make the best of the situation in which we find ourselves.

Our task is to face the challenge in such a way that we ensure the Vale continues to be a great place to live, not just for current residents but for generations to come.