No easy answers to big housing question

The Oxford Times: Save Radley Village group members, from left, Chris Henderson, Phyl Howard, Paul Sandford, Bob Earl and Graham Steinsberg. Picture: OX67416 David Fleming Buy this photo Save Radley Village group members, from left, Chris Henderson, Phyl Howard, Paul Sandford, Bob Earl and Graham Steinsberg. Picture: OX67416 David Fleming

WHEN Graham Steinsberg’s Radley home burnt down 18 months ago, he had to apply for planning permission to rebuild it.

His application was almost refused because the plans contained one new corridor.

Vale of White Horse District Council planning officers said that broke the rules of the Oxford Green Belt.

In March this year, the same council revealed plans to build 710 new homes in the village and neighbouring Kennington in its “local plan” blueprint of future estates.

Now, father-of-three Mr Steinsberg is leading a 300-strong group of Radley residents who are aiming to challenge that plan with one of their own.

Mr Steinsberg, 57, chairman of Save Radley Village, said: “It will be a proper village plan, with houses, extra school places, roads and other infrastructure.”

The centrepiece of the plan is its housing target – 150 homes – and for a very specific reason.

Mr Steinsberg said: “Our parish school is currently half-form entry.

“With 150 houses, there would be about enough children to bring that up to a one-form entry school, which could actually be healthy for the school.”

Mr Steinberg’s committee hopes to reveal its new village plan in the next few weeks, and run a village-wide consultation.

His efforts show the deep concern at the impact of the SHMA ruling.

The council previously estimated it would need 13,000 new homes in the next 15 years.

But the SHMA changes all that, pushing that target up to 20,000 homes and causing great concern among villagers who already feel swamped by development.

The rise across Oxfordshire was just as marked – a target of 60,000 rising to 100,000 by 2031.

Oxfordshire councils were content with 60,000 until a government planning inspector ruled North Warwickshire Borough Council’s 2008 SHMA was out of date – and that changed everything.

Oxfordshire’s is a year older, so the five district councils had to commission a new one between them.

Eventually, the other three district councils – South Oxfordshire, West Oxfordshire and Cherwell – and Oxford City Council will have to adopt the new SHMA target.

They have contracted a partnership of private firms to do that job, London-based architects and developer firm GL Hearn, planning consultants Justin Gardner and economic consultants SQW.

That partnership has conducted dozens of SHMAs for councils across the country.

Councils are not obliged to accept the figure produced, but if they calculate their own figure with a different method they will be required to justify it to a government planning inspector.

That leads them to the potentially tricky and costly task of explaining why their method is superior to the government-recommended one. Wantage MP Ed Vaizey called on planning minister Nick Boles to “urgently” review the SHMA methodology.

But the minister said “your needs assessment will give you a clear sense of the challenge that you face in providing enough houses to meet local need”.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Oxfordshire commissioned planning expert Alan Wenban-Smith to look into the issue and he said the numbers “grossly overstated” Oxfordshire’s need.

The CPRE hopes his report will help district councils challenge the figure.

Mr Steinsberg said: “Just cranking the handle on these computations bring out a need of 100,000 in Oxfordshire.

“It raises a huge number of questions about infrastructure – who will do checks on these plans to make sure these homes are actually needed, and that they are built in a sustainable way?

“Radley is a microcosm of these issues.”

HUGE ESTATE WOULD BE 'DISASTROUS' FOR VILLAGE

RESIDENTS in a West Oxfordshire village are fighting plans to build 1,000 homes on green fields.

Carterton West is the name given to an estate planned for the 200-home village of Alvescot, just outside Carterton.

West Oxfordshire District Council, told by the SHMA it must build 13,200 homes by 2031 as opposed to its own estimate of 5,500, has earmarked the site for development.

Campaigner Justine Garbutt said: “We are aware that the grotesquely inflated estimate of housing need put forward by the SHMA may put pressure on local councils to approve bids from developers which are unnecessary, unsustainable and damaging."

The Oxford Times:

  • Campaigners from Stop Carterton West, including Justine Garbutt, front
  • Picture: OX67443 Marc West

Fellow campaigner Richard Munro said: “The Carterton West proposal is a case in point. Despite its name, it is a plan to build a housing estate of 1,000 houses in Alvescot, a village with about 200 homes, on a site recognised for its landscape and environmental value.

“We are pleased to see that the recommendations of the SHMA are being questioned, and are confident that our district council will not allow itself to be coerced into granting approval for a development which would be disastrous for future generations living in Carterton and this part of West Oxfordshire.”

EMPLOYMENT GROWTH IS PART OF THE EQUATION

THE boss of one of three firms that put together the SHMA said their work included new analysis of job trends.

Chris Green, chief executive of SQW Group, said it looked at potential growth of employment in the county rather than natural population growth.

That includes the £55.5m Oxford City Deal, signed by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in February, which aims to create thousands of jobs by investing in businesses and roads.

Mr Green said: “Previously, there were trend-based forecasts but they won’t take into account new initiatives like the city deal.

“Our task was to ask ‘what is the likely maximum employment impact over the next 20 years of initiatives which weren’t picked up in those initial forecasts?’”

He gave the example of the Harwell Oxford Enterprise Zone – created in 2011 – which ministers expect to deliver 30,000 new jobs by 2015.

This relaxed planning rules and gave discounted business rates to firms at Harwell Oxford Science Campus, near Didcot.

Mr Green’s firm looked at what Harwell and other businesses predicted they could achieve, and how realistic those predictions were.

Planning consultants GL Hearn then calculated what the housing need would be from those jobs, from new people moving to the county.

Mr Green said: “We simply look at existing regional forecasts and say ‘are those likely to change in the future or stay the same?’”

Yet the methodology is open to interpretation, he said, and others “would all come up with slightly different numbers”.

‘GROSSLY OVERSTATED’

THE Campaign to Protect Rural England’s Oxfordshire planning consultant Alan Wenban-Smith investigated the SHMA, and found it most likely “grossly overstated” Oxfordshire’s housing need.

His main conclusions were:

  • The SHMA is not in accordance with government planning policy
  • The estimate for Oxford migration was “cobbled together”
  • SHMA authors used a pre-credit crunch average household size projection, meaning 7,600 more houses would be needed
  • The SHMA disregards the effects of the global economic crisis
  • It uses a projected creation of 85,000 new jobs in 15 years as a direct requirement for 24,000 new homes
  • It underestimates the percentages of affordable housing which would be necessary
  • SHMA recommends building 15,000 houses just to get more affordable homes as a by-product
  • It assumes building more houses lowers prices, whereas the 2004 Baker report found that a 50 per cent national increase in building would price 5,000 homes in the country into the market.

THE SHMA EFFECT

  • Oxford City Council – was 8,000 homes by 2026 (666 a year), now 28,000 by 2031 (1,400 a year)
  • South Oxfordshire District Council – was 11,500 by 2027 (766 a year), now 15,500 by 2031 (or 775 a year)
  • Vale of White Horse – was 13,000 by 2029 (764 a year), now 20,560 by 2031 (1,028 a year)
  • West Oxfordshire District Council – was 5,500 by 2029 (366 a year), now 13,200 by 2031 (or 660 a year)
  • Cherwell District Council – was 16,700 by 2031 (982 a year), now 22,800 by 2031 (or 1,140 a year)
  • Oxfordshire (combined) – was 54,700, now 100,060 by 2031 (or 5,003 a year)

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