Leader’s report to council
Report to the council by Leader Cllr David Rouane on 17 February 2022
Although the government will soon be lifting restrictions, it is important to remember that Covid is not over. Despite the vaccinations and the boosters, people are still feeling the effects of the virus. I would like to thank our staff who continue to work in a Covid-secure way and to support those in our community who are in need.
We have now received the much awaited Levelling Up White Paper although its implications for us are not clear. The paper encourages councils to work together as we do through the Future Oxfordshire Partnership but we still have no indication about the future status of the Arc, which I wrote to the Secretary of State about at the request of the council.
Now that the Regulation 18, part 2 consultation is complete, we are in crunch time for OxPlan50. The five councils now need to reach agreement on housing numbers and spatial options, and our political differences are apparent.
From the data we have seen so far, and the feedback I have heard from residents, and the discussions at the sub-group, I believe that there is a strong case for us to argue for the Plan to use the government’s standard method. This would give us lower housing numbers than the other two methods within the Oxfordshire Growth Needs Assessment. Colleagues and I think that lower numbers are the most effective way for us to maintain a strong focus on affordability and environmental sustainability It would also give an opportunity for infrastructure provision to catch up with the boom in housebuilding here over the past few years. A lower target will also help to safeguard our 5 Year Housing Land Supply.
It appears that the City Council continues to want high housing targets; of course they do – they never have to build them out, but instead take advantage of the ‘duty to cooperate’ to force the neighbouring rural districts to take on their unmet need. This causes more commuting traffic and environmental stress, and utterly fails to achieve the objectives of the Plan.
It’s all to play for now as we try to reach agreement among the councils.
I have also written to the Secretary of State, in a letter which was signed by all of the Oxfordshire council leaders, concerning the unfair way in which the 5 Year Housing Land Supply rules are applied.
In it I argued that “Any measure that is ambiguous, misleading and containing contradictory incentives for developers not to build out granted permission is, therefore, not fit for purpose. We would instead argue that, providing a planning authority has allocated sufficient land for housing and has not unreasonably withheld planning permissions, they should be deemed to have met their obligations around land supply.”
I would like to thank officers who presented our new Planning Enforcement Statement to representatives from town and parish councils. Now that they understand what the new policy actually means there has been general support like this message from one parish saying, “Thank you for the presentation slides of what was a very useful and extremely well conducted briefing. Please also pass on our appreciation to Anne-Marie Simpson and to the technicians who made it all possible. For our part be assured that we will endeavour to fulfill our role as a Parish Council.”
I would like to pay tribute to two members who have been campaigning on water-related issues. Firstly, our Thames Champion, Cllr Robb, who has done a great deal recently to raise the issue of sewage with Thames Water. She and I are hoping to meet with them in the near future.
Secondly, I was pleased to see that Cllr Turner was able to attend opening of a flood alleviation project which he has campaigned for over many years.
Great British Railways
Councillors may have seen that Great British Railways has invited expressions of interest for the relocation of their head office. Candidates must be well connected and have a railway heritage as well as fitting the Levelling Up agenda. We have submitted papers on behalf of Didcot which has the support of neighbouring councils and the local MP so please wish us well.
More on the bid here