- Meeting of Scrutiny Panel, Oxfordshire Growth Board, Thursday 24 January 2019 6.30 pm (Item 4.)
- View the background to item 4.
The terms of reference of the Panel state:
Members of the public may address meetings of the Scrutiny Panel, where notice is given to the secretariat no later than 4.00pm on the last working day before the day of the meeting.
The Chair will have discretion to manage the public participation procedure as they see appropriate, including rejecting frivolous, defamatory or offensive questions and managing the time afforded to public addresses.
Notice of a wish to address the meeting, including the subject of the address or the full question to be asked, must be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
by 4.00pm on Wednesday 23 January 2019.
The Chair’s decision will be final.
The Panel took this item after the item on the Growth Board’s response to the Panel’s recommendations from the previous meeting.
The Panel heard one question and one address from members of the public.
Sue Heywood, representing Need Not Greed Oxfordshire, asked the following question:
‘The speed and timescales being imposed on the Oxfordshire 2050 plan continue to be a concern. There is a lot of very good talk about engagement and consultation, including in the draft Reg 18 consultation document, but it is not clear that this can be delivered in practice. In addition, there is much on what it is hoped growth will deliver, and how it should be delivered in order to not cause harm, but there is no evidence in the report being presented next week to the Growth Board as to when any there will be a real debate on what scale of growth might be needed to deliver the aspirations and objectives for the stakeholders in the county and it is hard to see how the Local Development Scheme as it is being proposed can deliver this. Need not Greed Oxfordshire therefore asks:
- Given that the final copy of the Statement of Community Involvement was produced just one working day after the consultation ended, what opportunity was there for the JSSP sub-group or others to consider a report on the responses received and what transparency was offered to the public on the changes made/not made?
- What assurances are there that the responses to the Reg 18 consultation on aspirations and objectives will be meaningfully considered and incorporated, in a transparent way, into the additional proposed Reg 18 consultation in the summer?
- Why do none of the documents for consultation to date seek any opinion on the overall scale of growth and why it is needed? Will this take place and, if so, where and when? What transparency will there be on whose evidence, or what influence, will take priority in decisions that define the scale of growth and housing target numbers for the county? Only this morning, an additional piece of information came to my attention that could be relevant to these points. There is a suggestion that the additional Reg 18 Issues consultation that is now planned for the summer will include an invitation for views on housing numbers as well as on broad locations for any growth. Further, it appears there may be some topic papers planned on a number of key areas, including housing numbers, that will set out how evidence will be collected. These could be a welcome development, assuming there is opportunity for input and feedback on both, including by Scrutiny and we would be grateful for any confirmation about these that Scrutiny can provide.
- In conclusion, will Scrutiny please call for further urgent action to extend the timescales for the project and also for the appropriate assurances and transparency, as outlined above?’
At the request of the Vice-Chair, Rachel Williams, Lead Officer for Oxfordshire County Council responded to the points raised. In summary:
· The production of the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 was an ambitious project, but it was currently in a good place and discussion was taking place in all the District Council areas. In addition, as committed to in the Growth Deal, there would be a full suite of approved or submitted Local Plans for Oxfordshire by April 2019
· The proposal for the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 was to have a two-part Regulation 18 consultation. The first commencing on 1st February had been designed to be an accessible discussion document concerning issues, the vision, aspiration and objectives around the scale of growth. A big launch was planned for this and broad public engagement wanted. The second consultation would focus on the broad locations for growth and this was scheduled for the summer/autumn of 2019.
· Although the final copy of the draft Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) had been produced in a short period of time after the close of the consultation period, Officers had already carefully considered comments as they had been received and all the responses had been further considered by the Liaison Group including how they could be addressed.
· The Cabinets/Executives of the various councils would be asked to look at the document, the responses received and to make appropriate amendments.
The Panel commented that, from events various of them had already attended, they were concerned about what appeared to be a lack of attendance and engagement amongst younger people. Given the importance of the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 for their futures it was of high priority that they were represented in future launch events. The Panel was informed of the arrangements in place around engagement and Rachel Williams underlined the keenness of the Plan team to engage with young people as part of the process.
Dr Peter Collins, Chairman of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) Oxfordshire gave the following address:
‘CPRE would again like to stress the importance it gives to Panel discussions and actions, and the need to make sure that, in whatever haste, the Growth Board understands the need to spend time on and take seriously all points made by the Panel to it.
Councillors will be aware that CPRE is 'The Planning Charity' - unlike all other volunteer groups - both nationally and locally, with experience over 90 years in working positively alongside Government, Counties and Districts. We were glad that the Oxfordshire Growth Board saw our support of the JSSP, subject to proper public engagement, as both positive and helpful. We saw the listing of CPRE by name as a Stakeholder in a recent draft of the Statement of Community Involvement as an appropriately positive step but are now dismayed to be deleted from the list of General Consultees in the updated draft, Appendix 1. We understand that legal requirements may need a special classification. To remove CPRE by name, as a stakeholder and consultee on all matters of planning, would not in our view be in Oxfordshire's interest and be seen badly by the public. We hope that the Panel will pursue this matter.
CPRE also urges the Panel to pursue the Growth Board on the need for a clear priority to be given for really affordable living accommodation, with suitable density and sustainability, over provision for employment on all brownfield land. Clearly, current local plans can trump some of this, but it should be written in stone now from when the local plans come to an end, and the City and District Councils be asked to agree to seek to implement it as far as possible from now on.
I would note that it is well established that there are plenty of houses available for purchase, except for those really affordable ones needed for vital local people and key workers. That developers be allowed to concrete over the beautiful green fields of Oxfordshire with unneeded expensive houses or those called 'affordable' but also too expensive for the many at 80% of market value is wholly undesirable. There is no evidence that building more and more expensive houses for commuters and those who still find Oxfordshire a desirable place to live will relieve the County's housing problems, provide cheaper accommodation and answer real need.
In order that the public, be not confused as to the meaning of words they will find used again and again in discussions in planning circles, I suggest that new definitions of 'affordable' and 'objectively assessed need' be sought. The morally enforced imperative needs to be properly understood.
In passing, I would like to join others in asking those who compiled the latest draft of the Statement of Community Involvement just what they understand by 'consultation', in particular with clause 15 in mind’.
In discussion about the issues raised the Panel commented:
1. That it shared the concerns of the CPRE regarding the omission from the list of ‘General Consultees’ within the updated draft of the Statement of Community Involvement whilst noting the advice of Officers that there were statutory, legal and practical reasons for this and that input from CPRE remained highly valued. The Panel felt that the contribution of CPRE was sufficiently significant as to warrant listing as a key consultee or regular stakeholder in some way within the Statement of Community Involvement document. It was noted that Officers were building a database of consultees.
2. The Panel noted that definitions of ‘Affordable Housing’ within the plan documents had to reflect national technical definitions set out in the National Planning Policy Framework but shared the concerns raised that this did not necessarily reflect a broader consideration of ‘affordable’. The Panel noted that Officers accepted there was a challenge to explain the terms in a meaningful way.
The Panel agreed the following recommendation to the Growth Board:
That the Growth Board reflect on the categorisation of consultees to create a separate list of key consultees in addition to the statutory list of consultees within the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 (JSSP) consultation process. CPRE to be added to this list of key consultees.