Councillor Sean Woodcock, Leader of the Labour Group on Cherwell District Council
Councillor Sean Woodcock, Leader of the Labour Group on Cherwell District Council

The Oxfordshire Plan 2050 is currently out for consultation. It is intended to set out the future of our county over the next 30 years. It is seemingly an important piece of work. But it could all be for nothing.

The Conservative Government’s intention to change planning rules to benefit developers were set out in ‘Planning for the Future’ in 2020. They were immediately branded a ‘Developer’s Charter’ by housing campaigners.

The current planning system is locally-led, with councils and the communities they represent given a say over the way their neighbourhoods develop, and all residents given the chance to object to development that is overbearing, impacts on their quality of life, or that is not accompanied by funding for necessary infrastructure (eg schools, roads, health services).

The ‘Developer’s Charter’ proposals would take away the right of local people to comment or object to development in their area, instead allowing the Secretary of State to grant developers planning “permission in principle” without any local consultation on the application. These changes to the planning system would help developers avoid contributions for affordable housing, local infrastructure, and avoid existing standards on good quality design, allowing them to rack up hundreds of millions of pounds extra profit without building any more homes. The Government is already relaxing ‘permitted development’ rules to allow developers to ignore space standards and turn high street shops and offices into homes, none of which have to be affordable.

The proposals have attracted widespread criticism – except from developers. President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Alan Jones, branded the white paper’s proposals as “shameful”, the Campaign to Protect Rural England voiced concerns about community involvement, and the housing charity Shelter expressed concern at the reforms’ potential impact on social housing.

Conservative Ministers have claimed that the reforms are needed to speed up housebuilding, even though over one million planning permissions have not been built out in the last decade.

The Conservative Party received £11 million in donations from developers in Boris Johnson’s first year as Prime Minister and £891,000 from developers in the first three months of 2021 alone.

Latest figures show more than 1.1 million homes given planning permission over the past decade are yet to be built, and councils are approving nine in 10 planning applications. There is also land for more than one million additional homes already allocated in Local Plans which developers have not yet brought forward to planning application stage.

According to a poll commissioned by the Conservative-led Local Government Association Eight in 10 residents want to be able to have their say on all new homes built in their local community. 82% felt it was important to be able to comment on individual plans for all housing developments in their local area. Nearly half (49 per cent) said it was “very” important while a third (32 per cent) said “fairly” important.

The whole country is uniting against the dreadful plans to prevent local people from having a say over new developments in our communities. Now it’s time for local leaders to send a clear message – Cherwell says no to the Developers’ Charter.

We have to build more homes but we have to do it the right way. Under this Conservative Government’s plans local people would have no right to a say over anything built in Cherwell from ugly and unsightly buildings to slums and bad developments over our treasured green spaces. That has to be wrong.

It’s now time for councillors from all parties to back our message to government so Cherwell can stand together and defeat these outrageous proposals.

Bicester Advertiser column from Councillor Sean Woodcock, Leader of the Labour Group on Cherwell District Council

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