A PLAN to build thousands of homes at controversial sites including Chalgrove Airfield and Culham looks set to be back at square one.

South Oxfordshire District Council has voted to look again at all its possible Local Plan options, including some near Oxford - essentially scrapping months of work.

It will now ask the Government for more time to reassess the housing sites, which include Grenoble Road and Wick Farm near Barton Park, as the search goes on for locations to build about 20,000 new homes up until 2033.

The Oxford Times: Fields surrounding Wick Farm that could be turned into 1,850 homes, including 200 for hospital staff

Wick Farm

This week the UK Atomic Energy Agency urged the council not to stall its plan, worrying that it would have a potentially ‘disastrous’ impact on potential growth at Culham Science Centre and the Harwell Campus.

But SODC said it has a duty to ensure any Local Plan which is submitted to a planning inspector would have a good chance of success.

Felix Bloomfield, SODC’s deputy leader and member for planning, said:“When you’re talking about future housing in a rural district like ours, it’s very important that you get it right.

“By reviewing the housing sites, we’re looking to ensure the plan we submit stands the best chance of a planning inspector finding that it’s a ‘sound’ plan and gives us a robust base on which we can build a better South Oxfordshire for everybody.”

The Oxford Times:

The viability of using some sites, notably Chalgrove Airfield, has been questioned. It is currently used by ejector seat manufacturer Martin-Baker, who are opposed to losing any of its land.

But the 3,000-home plan is backed by Government agency Homes England, which has promised at least £90m of infrastructure funding.

SODC will write to the Government over the next few days asking for special dispensation over the £215m Oxfordshire Growth Deal.

As part of the deal, signed off by all six Oxfordshire councils and the housing minister Dominic Raab in March, authorities’ Local Plans had to be submitted by April 1, 2019.

But SODC is asking Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government for it to be delayed to as late as January 2020.

If the ministry refuses, then the council has said it will press on with its Local Plan with Chalgrove Airfield in it and add a reserve in case its fails a planning inspection.

Alex Hollingsworth, Oxford City Council’s board member for planning, said he was happy with SODC’s decision.

He said: “I think it is very much going in the right direction. There’s quite a lot of flexibility, which is what South Oxfordshire is looking for.”

The Oxford Times: grenoble road map5.eps

Mr Hollingsworth said he was happy SODC would consider proposals to build housing at Grenoble Road again, having dismissed it in work earlier. The site south of Oxford has been a favourite of the city council’s for new housing for decades.

Former SODC leader John Cotton had wanted to submit the Local Plan with Chalgrove Airfield in it – but not with any reserve behind it.

He was scathing of the council’s leadership at a meeting on Tuesday. He said the cabinet's proposal amounted to ‘cowardice’ and it seemed unable to make a final decision on which sites it wanted.

Mr Cotton added there was ‘serious risk’ the council simply asking for extra time over its Local Plan could damage ties with Government.

He said the ‘foolhardy errand’ risked relationships fostered over the construction of the Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal and potential investment for the future Didcot Garden Town.

But a senior source, who did not want to be named, blamed Mr Cotton’s past leadership which they said ‘pushed at the very borders’ of what officers felt comfortable with. They praised new leader Jane Murphy.

They said: “This is a car crash that’s not just been coming for months but for years.

“It’s like the grown-ups have wrested control of the vehicle just before it went over the cliff.”

It is still unknown officially whether any SODC and Government decision would delay what is known as the 'joint statutory spatial plan', which could be adopted by March 2021.

That would outline what councils hope will be ‘joined-up’ policy making for planning across Oxfordshire.

Some groups are opposed to housebuilding on the scale which councils are preparing for.

Michael Tyce, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said current housing figures should be revised downwards. He said that would help protect green areas across the county.

He said: “Spending money is more exciting than reducing housing numbers to levels actually needed of course, but nevertheless in the interests of its residents SODC should not be taking the money and seeking more countryside to build on.”

Chalgrove councillor David Turner tried to get the airfield plan scrapped entirely – but only got support from one other councillor.

Mr Turner, the council’s sole Liberal Democrat, got support from Mocky Khan, who is the only Labour representative.

Overall, 19 SODC councillors supported Mr Bloomfield’s plan. Five, including Mr Cotton, were opposed and two abstained.