It is clear that one way or another Oxford is going to have a review of its Green Belt and the suitability of parts of it to accommodate more housing.
It is tempting to believe, judging from our page one report, that we have already had such a review.
For Oxford City Council’s Investigation into the Potential to Accommodate Urban Extension in Oxford Green Belt certainly provides a detailed examination of the Green Belt, the parts worth keeping and the sections that might be concreted over with the minimum pain.
The Town Hall will tell you that it is an informal document, intended to be the basis of further work.
It certainly reads like a well-researched document and its appearance just before the public examination of the Cherwell Local Plan was indeed timely, given that the planning inspector was much preoccupied with the size of Oxfordshire’s housing need.
It is a good bet that other inspectors looking into Local Plans shall also have the benefit of the city council’s informal assessment, helpfully setting out the best site options, with details of ownership and so on. Many of the sites identified will be familiar to regular readers, with Grenoble Road and the Kidlington-Yarnton gap (these sites being usefully in college/university hands) all there.
Others like the sites around Abingdon are suddenly now in the reckoning, getting to the very heart of the Green Belt’s reason for existence, to provide green space between settlements.
Green Belt campaigners are accusing the city council of producing its report in near secrecy, with no one aware of the report and no one consulted. Given the pace of events since the appearance of the Strategic Housing Market Assessment, with Cherwell’s Local Plan hardly detaining the inspector until lunch time, this unease is understandable.
The inspector almost immediately sent Cherwell District Council back to the drawing board with instructions to come back with plan containing thousands more homes.
With something like a 37 per cent increase in Oxfordshire’s housing in less than 20 years proposed by the SHMA, it is worth noting that even a large housing estate south of Grenoble Road would not come even close to meeting this kind of demand. In a way, a proper Green Belt review, involving all local councils, may be the best option for some calm and considered assessment. At the moment people fear if they blink they could miss it.