Oxford City Council and the University of Oxford have been accused of a dereliction of their duty to protect greenbelt land around Oxford, after a plan to build 4,400 homes was approved by Cherwell District Council this week.
The plan forms part of Oxford’s unmet housing need strategy, and will include thousands of homes for future Oxford city residents being built on surrounding greenbelt land in the Cherwell district, in small villages such as Begbroke and Yarnton.
The Conservative-dominated Cherwell District Council has been accused of ignoring the views of residents who “have consistently and loudly opposed the removal of greenbelt land for development,” according to a spokesman for the local Liberal Democrat councillors.
At Monday’s full CDC meeting, the partial review of the local plan to build 4,400 homes over the next decade was passed by 27 votes to 16, being supported by Conservative Councillors and opposed by Progressive Oxfordshire, a coalition Lib Dems, Greens and Independent councillors.
Liberal Democrat Councillor Katherine Tyson, spokesperson for the Progressive Oxfordshire group, said:
“Residents have made their views very clear, and they continue to be ignored by Cherwell District Council. I would have hoped that the rest of Cherwell would stand up for residents in other areas of the district.”
She added; “The disingenuous Conservative arguments for this process have been laid bare; this very process opens up the green belt to speculative development – it doesn’t defend it. Conservatives have betrayed their principles, gone against our adopted Climate Change Emergency motion, and have shown that they do not believe in the principle of conservation or listening to residents. It is spitting in the face of local residents.”
Cherwell Council was mandated under a duty to cooperate to conduct a review of its local plan, whereupon it has increased the levels of housing being built in the Cherwell District, which apart from larger towns such as Banbury and Bicester, also comprises a number of small villages surrounded by Oxfordshire’s greenbelt.
Talking to The Oxford Blue, Ian Middleton, Green Party Councillor for Kidlington East, accused Oxford City Council of exporting its housing problems to the more rural areas outside of the city, shifting responsibility for meeting supposed housing needs to local councils rather than dealing with the problem within its own jurisdiction, warning that, “huge swathes of greenbelt will be torn up.”
Middleton added: “We’re told we have no choice but to build on the green belt, but it is a choice. These houses are not even for the people of Cherwell, they’re for Oxford. Why choose to sacrifice our most precious green spaces to another council’s rampant expansionism?”
One local campaign group, the Begbroke and Yarnton Green Belt Campaign (BYG), is raising funds to mount a legal challenge to the plan to build 2,500 houses on greenbelt land in and around those two small villages, and have so far raised nearly 30% of their £5,000 target.
In a tweet on Monday, the BYG said: “Tonight the Tory group on Cherwell all voted in favour of the plan to let the bulldozers lose on our Green Belt. Our only chance now is a legal challenge, but we need funds to mount it.”
Another group, GreenWay Oxon, comprised of members of the North Oxford Golf Club, is also campaigning against the possible closure of its club if the development plans go ahead.
The majority of the club’s land is owned by Merton and Exeter Colleges, as well as Oxford University Press, who, the organisation say, “will reap a huge financial benefit if it is developed for housing.”
A statement on GreenWay Oxon’s website adds: “It is difficult to believe that the Oxford University colleges who own the land, together with Cherwell District Council and the Planning Inspector could even imagine demolishing a thriving, irreplaceable, much loved community resource in favour of housing development.”
In response, Communications Officer at Cherwell DC emphasised that, “the Plan was extensively consulted on and was the subject of public hearings in 2018 and 2019 where the views of organisations and members of the public were considered.”
Furthermore, in a statement released on their website, the Council said: “Conservation and the enhancement of the natural environment are key strands of the Partial Review of the Local Plan. The council will require net biodiversity gains on all developments; the Plan will also enhance woodland areas, create new wildlife habitats and connect and improve existing wildlife corridors.”
Councillor Colin Clarke, Cherwell’s lead member for planning added: “As well as the high number of affordable homes; new schools; enriching biodiversity and access to green spaces for future residents are all essential to our vision.”
Oxford University Press have been contacted for comment.
This article was updated at 09:36 on 09/09/20 with Cherwell District Council’s response and statement.