Released on July 13, 2020
All eyes will be on South Oxfordshire this week as the district becomes host to the first ever online ‘virtual’ public hearings for a Local Plan examination.
The South Oxfordshire Local Plan 2034 first became the subject of national interest after the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government in October last year took the unusual step in issuing a Holding Direction preventing the district council from taking any actions in relation to the adoption of the plan, meaning councillors couldn’t formally discuss, debate or vote on the subject. And then in March this year, the Secretary of State issued a second Direction to instruct the council to progress the plan through to adoption by December 2020.
The council first began working on the plan six years ago and thousands of residents, businesses and local community groups have had their say on proposals during six rounds of extensive public consultation. During that time, the council has had a number of different leaders and a change of administration in the 2018 elections.
The housing numbers and the location of the key sites proposed for housing have been subject to debate throughout the production of the plan, as is often the case with Local Plans. Another area of discussion has been how much of neighbouring Oxford’s unmet need South Oxfordshire should cater for.
These are all topics that will be discussed during the examination hearing, which gets underway at 10am on Tuesday 14 July, and will be publicly available to view live on the council’s special YouTube channel. A link to the YouTube channel is available on the council’s Local Plan examination webpage at www.southoxon.gov.uk/examination. For data protection reasons, the council will not be able to make recordings available after the event, so the best way to stay up to date with the hearings is to watch them live.
Other topics that the independent Planning Inspector, Jonathan Bore will chair discussions on include whether or not the plan takes a sound approach towards the Green Belt, if the plan’s infrastructure policies are sound, and if the plan takes a proactive approach to mitigating and adapting to climate change.
The full list of topics to be discussed is available in the Agenda document on the council’s Local Plan examination webpage, as is a Programme setting out when each matter will be discussed by the participants. The examination hearings are scheduled to run for four weeks.
Cllr Anne-Marie Simpson, Cabinet Member for Planning at South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “This controversial plan has been subject to much discussion and debate, and it is right that it has – Local Plans everywhere have an impact on the lives of local people, and our communities have actively engaged in this process throughout. We’ve worked very hard at the council to assist the Planning Inspectorate to provide an effective system to allow hearings to go ahead virtually during the COVID-19 restrictions – it is not just a first for us, but a first for the country. Being able to watch online from home may help people who wouldn’t normally go to a formal planning meeting engage with our local plan examination. I would like to encourage anybody with an interest in issues that will affect their communities to tune in.”