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Deadlock squanders Oxfordshire 2050 plan

oxford city council tackles housing crsis
IH

Ian Hudspeth

Former Leader for Oxfordshire County Council and Commissioner of the Levelling Up Commission

The collapse of the Oxfordshire Joint Spatial Plan will have consequences that reach beyond the area of planning. The unique proposal was for all six councils to work together on a future vision for Oxfordshire that would allow development in the most appropriate locations whilst, at the same time, retain Oxfordshire’s status as a fantastic place to work, live and play. There is cutting-edge technology creating world-class jobs, nestled up to some wonderful rural settings in the county.

The Joint Spatial Plan was part of a deal between the Government and the six councils and was envisaged not just for five years but for thirty. It was designed to bring in a minimum of £965 million in government funding. In the mid-2010s, the councils set aside political and geographical differences to work together to understand the infrastructure deficit that had occurred over the previous decades of growth in the county. It was concluded that there was a local infrastructure deficit of £1.7 billion.

To address this, we worked together alongside the Local Enterprise Partnership, Oxford University, and Oxford Brookes University to propose a deal. This was concluded in 2017, with the then Chancellor stating that this was only the start of infrastructure funding for Oxfordshire.

Yes, it was hard work to agree, with all partners having to be pragmatic and consider the big picture rather than simply focus on themselves. We had been successful in previous years, with the Local Growth Fund and City Deal arrangements attracting funding investments of over £200 million. There was (and still is) an unmet housing need in the city of Oxford, but all the other Districts have housing waiting lists, so the £60 million to help deliver affordable homes was welcome across the county. Then, there was £5 million to deliver a Joint Spatial Plan, which the councils have now reneged on.

Skills agenda

The skills agenda was to be addressed to improve productivity. The initial deal of £30 million per annum for five years brought a much-needed £215 million of government funding. Whilst the Housing Infrastructure Funds 1 & 2¾totalling £320 million¾were separate, I am sure that Oxfordshire was successful (in part) due to the 2017 deal. That’s £535 million, with a minimum of another £750 million over the 30-year period, bringing the total to £1,285 million and almost closing the identified infrastructure deficit.

Now, with councils unable to work together, it appears that the 2017 deal is dead in the water. I hope the Government do not claw back any of the funds previously spent but, there could be a reduction on this year’s final funding.

Oxfordshire 2050

Oxfordshire is a fantastic county in which to live and work; consistently attracting new jobs and companies, meaning growth will continue to happen. However, now, with the loss of vital infrastructure funding, along with individual local plans that will be challenged, this will lead to planning by appeal in inappropriate locations without adequate infrastructure.

The big question is what will happen to strategic planning within Oxfordshire and, more importantly, how will the councils address the loss of at least £750 million in infrastructure funding over the coming years?

Photo Credit: Paul Gillet

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