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Innovative engagement helps hundreds of new voices to shape our districts’ future

Well over a thousand individuals and organisations have shared their thoughts on an emerging plan for the future of South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse. Their comments will contribute to the development of a new Joint Local Plan, which will guide planning decisions in the districts until 2041.

South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils are working together to deliver the Joint Local Plan, which will guide what kinds of new housing and jobs are needed and where they should go.

The two district councils wanted the community’s feedback on councils’ proposed plans and draft policies across a range of topics, including climate, housing and jobs, environment, community facilities and more.

Determined to reach more people than ever before, the councils used innovative online engagement tools and held a variety of community events in unique and interesting locations to reach people who haven’t commented on local plans in the past, as well as those who regularly engage with council planning consultations. Testament to these innovative methods, around half of those responding to a Joint Local Plan in a Nutshell survey said it was their first time taking part in a local plan consultation.

The councils used their new engagement website, Join the Conversation, to provide a more user-friendly and accessible way to engage, featuring explainer videos, interactive maps, a calendar of upcoming events, and two surveys for respondents to choose from. The shorter ‘Joint Local Plan in a Nutshell’ option featured topics summaries and explainers and gave a unique opportunity for those less familiar with Local Plans to get to grips with the huge array of topics and technical issues a Local Plan covers. For those who wanted to delve into more detail, respondents could also view and comment on all the detail of the proposed plans and draft policies in the full ‘Preferred Options’ survey.

It has proven to be a huge success – the councils are still processing the vast number of responses and have calculated that over 1,200 individuals and organisations have provided a total of several thousand comments to the consultation.

Almost 600 people also attended 10 drop-in events held across the districts in a mix of traditional community venues and social café-bar lounges, where people could find out more about the plans and draft policies, get their questions answered by planning experts, and have their say.

Council officers also held interactive workshops with some groups of young people at local colleges to give them the chance to give their views on topics that will affect them during the lifetime of the Joint Local Plan, like housing availability and affordability, and the climate emergency.

Councillor Anne-Marie Simpson, Cabinet Member for Planning at South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “Thank you to everyone who took the time to get involved in our consultation, whether it was filling in a survey or chatting with us at a drop-in event.

“We tried a lot of new things for this consultation so it’s exciting and reassuring your responses show we’ve got the word out and reached new people who we haven’t previously engaged with, while also hearing from those we hear from regularly.

“I’m particularly pleased that we’ve engaged directly with local colleges, schools and other youth groups to hear from the next generation – this work affects their immediate future so it’s important they have a say now to shape it.”

Councillor Andy Foulsham, Cabinet Member for Corporate Services, Policy and Programmes at Vale of White Horse District Council, said: “The more people that join the conversation and share their different perspectives, the better our local plan will be and the better it will truly reflect our community’s needs, so we sincerely thank everyone who gave up their time to review our plans and share their thoughts.

“We’re proud our community is so passionate about our districts and we’ve had a lot of insightful comments on topics including climate action, housing need, environmental protection, employment and more, to build a plan that reflects our residents’ needs and priorities for the future.”

The councils are now reviewing all the comments and responses and will summarise them in a consultation statement in due course. The comments will help shape the full draft Joint Local Plan that will be published later in the year for the community to review and comment on before the plan is then submitted to be examined by a Planning Inspector. Should the inspector find the plan to be sound, the councils will then look to adopt it as part of their Development Plan where it will help determine planning decisions in the two districts.

Find out more about the Joint Local Plan on both the South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district council websites.

To receive updates on the Joint Local Plan, including when the councils consult on the draft plan, please register your details using our consultation sign up form.