OXFORDSHIRE could pay a heavy price to secure City Deal millions from Government, with the widespread destruction of the Green Belt.
The claim comes from a leading conservation group, which fears key planning issues, such as the expansion of Oxford, could soon be handed over to an unelected quango.
And it warns that the newly announced City Deal with Government – said to hold out the promise of millions to boost economic growth – will lead to the creation of a “Greater Oxford” by the backdoor.
The claims have been refuted by a senior city council executive, who branded them “speculation written as fact”.
The City Deals bid was jointly submitted by all six Oxfordshire councils, the two universities, major science faculties and Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership.
Announcing last week that Oxford and Oxfordshire was one of 20 regions in the second wave of deals, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said the decision would mean Whitehall “letting go of power and money”.
But the Oxfordshire Campaign To Protect Rural England fears some local councils had not understood what they signed up to.
And it argues that rather than going to local representatives, planning powers will be handed to an unelected board, dominated by organisations hellbent on expanding Oxford on to the Green Belt, including land south of Grenoble Road.
CPRE committee member Michael Tyce said: “It will involve creating a Greater Oxford city region spreading out as far as Bicester to speed up economic growth.
“With City Deals the Government provides funding and enhanced decision making powers in return for assurances that development will be ratcheted up. It is hard to see this as anything other than a major outward expansion of the city, as the city council has long been planning.”
Mr Tyce claims this would be made possible with the creation of a new Quango Board of the City, with powers to take binding decisions.
While there would be representatives of district councils, he said it would include Oxford University, a major landowner which, with Oxford colleges, could make millions from development, and the city council would act as administrator for the board.
Mr Tyce said: “Although all the local authorities would be represented on the board, they would be outnumbered by the city and other members. This seems like passing control of a large swathe of Oxfordshire and its residents from the control of elected councils to an unelected quango.”
But David Edwards, city council executive director for regeneration and housing, said: “This is not Green Belt busting by the back door. There is a lot of speculation on the part of the CPRE written as fact. There is no hidden agenda.
“Any proposal for new development would have to go through the planning process properly, as it does now.”
He said many questions remained to be answered and the council would be meeting with Government to explore how to boost economic growth.
Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth said: “Since all Oxfordshire councils are working together on the City Deal, it’s certainly wide of the mark to suggest this amounts to an unelected body.”