West Oxfordshire Local Plan Examination
Date of Article
Dec 09 2015

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09 December 2015, West Oxfordshire District Council is the latest authority in Oxfordshire to have its Local Plan examined by an independent Inspector.

The first session of hearings took place in Witney from 23rd – 26th November 2015, in front of Inspector Simon Emerson.

The Local Plan makes provision for 525 homes per annum (2011-2031) rather than the 660 homes per annum identified as the District’s objectively assessed need in the Oxfordshire Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA), 2014. West Oxfordshire District Council jointly commissioned the SHMA with the other Oxfordshire Districts, Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council, and agreed the methodology for the assessment. However, the Council is not making provision to meet the figure identified in the report on the basis that there has historically been over-provision of housing in the District, and that this over-provision has artificially inflated the assessment of future housing need. The Local Plan aims to meet the need for 525 homes per annum primarily through the allocation of four Strategic Development Areas; two in Witney, one in Chipping Norton and one in Carterton.

Key issues discussed at the Examination were:

• Whether the Council is currently fulfilling its Duty to Cooperate by using its own data to identify its housing need;
• Whether the Plan has been positively prepared, when it is not making provision for the full, objectively assessed need identified in the SHMA;
• The deliverability of the Council’s spatial strategy, which focuses on four strategic development areas;
• The level of provision of affordable housing.

The Inspector is preparing an interim report following the first hearing sessions, which is due for publication imminently.

It seems likely that the next session of hearings will be postponed and that the Inspector will require the Council to make provision for a higher level of housing need. If the Plan has to make provision for more homes, this could result in a delay of 6–9 months, whilst the Local Plan spatial strategy is reviewed and additional development land identified. It’s possible that, to meet the higher need and to increase the flexibility and deliverability of the Plan, the scale of development permitted on the SDA allocations could be increased, alongside the allocation of smaller sites in other settlements.

Another complicating factor is that recently the Oxfordshire Growth Board estimated that Oxford City has an unmet need of approximately 15,000 houses to 2031. This unmet need will have to be ‘shared out’ among the four districts in the Oxfordshire Housing Market Area, a politically contentious process which the Growth Board hopes to resolve by July 2016.

West Oxfordshire District Council’s Plan could be modified to meet its own need, with a planned review to meet its share of the unmet need in a couple of years’ time, or the Local Plan Inspector may recommend that the Plan is further revised to make provision for some of Oxford’s unmet housing need.