Asking a question and addressing the
Questions or requests to make an address (in full and in writing) must be received by 5pm on 24 November 2021, three clear working days before the Future Oxfordshire Partnership meeting.
Questions and addresses should be no longer than one side of A4 paper in Arial 12 font. The address or question will be circulated to the Partnership and public speakers will be invited to speak at the meeting. Written submissions may also be read out by the Chair or Democratic Services Officer where requested or if the person making the request for public speaking is not able to attend the meeting. A response may be given at the meeting or a written answer supplied. The Chair will have discretion to manage the public participation procedure as they see appropriate. Questions and notice of addresses must be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: This meeting may be recorded for live broadcast. At the start of the meeting the Chair will confirm the meeting is being filmed. By registering to speak you are consenting to being recorded and to the use of those video and audio recordings for webcasting.
At the start of the item, the Vice-Chair indicated that it was intended to give a common answer to questions two, three and four as it was considered there was a high degree of commonality between these questions. Full copies of the questions and responses would also be published on the Future Oxfordshire Partnership website within ten working days.
1. Helen Marshall asked a question on behalf of CPRE Oxfordshire which referred to the decision of the Future Oxfordshire Partnership Scrutiny Panel to support CPRE’s concerns the public should be able to understand the decision-making process for the next steps of the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 and in particular how the number of homes to be built will be decided. It expressed concern that by the time of publication, the Regulation 19 consultation on the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 would be a fait accompli with growth options and spatial distribution selected and embedded. The Future Oxfordshire Partnership was asked who was going to make the decisions on which direction the Plan should take, on what basis these decisions would be taken and how this process would be made transparent to the public?
At the invitation of the Vice-Chair, Giles Hughes, Chief Executive West Oxfordshire District Council, and senior responsible officer for the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 responded to the question. He informed the Partnership that the decision on the policies to guide development as part of the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 would be taken by the five local planning authorities (the City and the four district councils) with consideration of national planning policy. This would be taken through formal decisions when they approved the draft Oxfordshire Plan 2050 for consultation, which was planned for July 2022. The principal Oxfordshire Councils would work together to assess the options and to reach a common position through discussion ahead of those formal decisions. Any decision would be taken following Overview and Scrutiny Committee consideration at the Councils in the normal way. Decisions would be taken in accordance with all relevant access to information legislation, requiring, for example, forward notice of decisions to be published etc. The Vice-Chair added that there would also be opportunity for the public to make representations about the Plan to their local district or city council through the public engagement processes of those councils.
2. Ian Green asked a question on behalf of Oxford Civic Society which referred to the three growth projections originating from the Oxfordshire Growth Needs Assessment, (OGNA) set out as part of the recent Regulation 18 Part 2 consultation which could be used as the basis for assessing the scale of longer-term housing growth in Oxfordshire. The question expressed the view that there was widespread and deep public concern regarding the OGNA. This related to its methodology, length and what was considered to be an overly technical nature which had resulted in the document being inaccessible and opaque to the public, a concern shared by a number of groups and reflected in responses to the Regulation 18 consultation. The question asked that an independent review be commissioned of the OGNA and that ideally, there be input from local civic groups on the terms of reference of such a review?
3. David Young asked a question on behalf of Planning Oxfordshire’s Environment and Transport Sustainability which whilst welcoming the decision to produce a strategic plan for Oxfordshire expressed the view that many of the Plan’s aspirations around climate action could not be achieved at the levels of growth currently envisaged. The question also expressed concerns that the OGNA had not met its brief, was inaccessible to non-planning experts and went on to express the view that a number of planning assumptions and national methodologies were changing, and would need to continue to change, if climate actions ambitions were to be achieved. The Partnership was asked to commission an independent peer review of the OGNA and that there be input from local civic groups on the terms of reference of such a review?
4. Ian Ashley asked a question on behalf of Need Not Greed Oxfordshire which also welcomed the decision by the Future Oxfordshire Partnership Scrutiny Panel to request a peer review of the OGNA. The question expressed the opinion that any peer review would provide an opportunity for an assessment of the OGNA methodology and increase public transparency of the OGNA rather than generate a new set of housing number projections. In the view of Need Not Greed Oxfordshire, an assessment of the OGNA would show that arbitrary choices had taken that increased the number of homes to built and that housing numbers alone would not solve the affordable housing crisis, increase pressure on local infrastructure and encourage high levels of in-migration. The Future Oxfordshire Partnership was asked whether it would initiate a review of the OGNA and consider very carefully how the Oxon 2050 plan could deliver the housing that Oxfordshire actually needed whilst helping to achieve net zero?
At the invitation of the Vice-Chair, Giles Hughes responded to questions two, three and four with a common response. He informed the Partnership that recent consultation on the Oxfordshire Plan included a consultation on the draft Oxfordshire Growth Needs Assessment (OGNA). It was stressed that this had been a draft document, on which the public’s feedback had been sought. These documents outlined three different scenarios on the future housing need up to 2050. Officers were currently considering the responses to the recent consultation. To date 3,830 responses have been logged from 420 individuals and organisations.
The final selection of the housing target would be made through the formal decisions taken by the City and District Councils when they approve the draft Oxfordshire Plan for consultation. These decisions, which were planned for July 2022, would be taken following Scrutiny Committee consideration at the Councils. The principal Oxfordshire Councils would work together to assess the options and to reach a common position through discussion ahead of those formal decisions. The Oxfordshire Plan 2050 Advisory Group will be an important forum for discussion.
Following analysis of the consultation responses, the different options will need to be assessed against the agreed Oxfordshire Strategic Vision, the objectives of the Oxfordshire Plan, the National Planning Policy Framework and through Sustainability Appraisal. This process will take some time and a conclusion is unlikely this year. It is important to recognise that the consultation covered many other important areas, such as addressing climate change, improving environmental quality, and creating jobs. We are very grateful for all of the responses that we have received on these and other topics.
The Future Oxfordshire Partnership cannot itself commission a peer review of the OGNA, as decision making powers relating to the Oxfordshire Plan lie with the city and district councils. Further, it is not appropriate to decide on this request at this moment as it is important that all of the comments made are properly considered before decisions are on an independent review were made.
5. Linda Ward had submitted a written question which expressed her concern that the OGNA was not fit for purpose and which stated the opinion that: 1) it was in the public interest to know the status and role of the two consultancy companies (Cambridge Economics and Iceni Projects) commissioned to prepare the OGNA; and 2) the Council’s input to drafting and internal review process which resulted in the final approved version of the OGNA. Attempts to obtain this information through Freedom of Information requests had been rejected and a complaint about this was currently being considered by the Information Commissioner. The representatives of the Future Oxfordshire Partnership were asked to confirm their commitment to the spirit of Freedom Of Information around the OGNA by undertaking to investigate and to ask their FOI Officers to cooperate to provide the requested information and secondly, if they agreed with West Oxfordshire District Council’s contention that the Councils’ participation in drafting and approving the OGNA should be considered to be ‘commercially sensitive’ and potentially prejudicial to future council negotiations’. If so, on what grounds?
It was noted a written answer would be supplied, but in addition Giles Hughes commented that if Linda Ward remained concerned about the response, she had received from West Oxfordshire District Council in respect of her Freedom of Information request, she did have the opportunity to ask for a review of the response.
6. Suzanne McIvor, on behalf of Cherwell Development Watch Alliance asked a question which referred to the notes of the meeting of the Future Oxfordshire Partnership Oxfordshire Plan 2050 Advisory Group held on 14 October 2021 and which quoted an extract from the notes which set out a summary of the Advisory Group’s discussion relating to the potential for a Green Belt review and officer advice that such a review could only be commissioned at a county level and not done individually by the district and city councils. The view was expressed by Suzanne McIvor that contrary to what was implied in the notes, the proposed policy option 10 as set out in the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 consultation document, had not set out details of a potential Green Belt review and had instead concentrated on enhancements to the Green Belt. Any review would in any case be too late for existing planned development in the Green Belt and be contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework. The Future Oxfordshire Partnership was asked to clarify:
· Would there be a Green Belt Review?
· Why there had been no explicit mention of this in the recent Regulation 18 Part 2 consultation?
· How could a Green Belt review be justified given the NPPF guidelines?
· How did the Partnership plan to ensure that any review of the Green Belt was done in a transparent way and was fully consulted on?
Giles Hughes responded that given the strategic nature of the Oxfordshire Plan, and its plan period up to 2050, Green Belt was an issue that needed to be looked at. The commissioning of a Green Belt study was being considered in order to make sure that the Plan had a comprehensive evidence base, and to help the Plan ensure that Green Belt boundaries remain appropriate up to 2050 and beyond. This would set an important context for subsequent Local Plan reviews.
Plans were supported by evidence and new evidence is frequently commissioned at each stage of their development. Any new studies would be published as part of the next consultation stage in the normal way. Any Green Belt study will need to be consistent with the guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework.