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Column 21st August 2019

At last, a planner thinking of bigger picture on housing

Normally planners are the people who are urging us to build more homes but a new group POETS (Planning Oxfordshire’s Environment and Transport Sustainably) are speaking out about the need to balance the desire for growth against environmental imperatives.

Chris Cousins, former head of sustainable development at Oxfordshire County Council (OCC); Noel Newson, former chief assistant engineer at Oxford City Council and group manager for sustainable transport at OCC; Roger Williams, former head of transport at OCC; and David Young, former director of environmental services at OCC are all people who should know what they are talking about, but will anyone listen?

They make it clear that current Local Plans contain proposals for about 15,000 dwellings for Oxford ‘overspill’ Including about 2,500 in the Vale. However, they say that independent consultants have concluded that the original need figures on which they were based are wrong -and are indeed roughly double what they should be.

They remind us that in return for enabling the development of 100,000 dwellings by 2031, the Government has promised £215 million. Yet this is less than 5% of the Oxfordshire Growth Board’s own estimate of what infrastructure funding is needed.

As POETS say, this “Growth Deal” will add over one-third to the County’s existing housing stock and the inevitable outcome is a worsening of shortfalls in essential services, increasing traffic congestion, pollution, and loss of valued environment.

Given that the Growth Board hailed the deal as a success, we shudder to think what failure would look like.

POETS also say that we should ensure that a greater proportion of what new housing is built, meets local and social needs and is located where it could best be served by public transport, cycling and walking.

They remind us that building starts struggle to get much above 200,000 per year and as Shelter has pointed out, many government initiatives (such as Help to Buy) actually increase house prices.

In any event, we need social housing more than anything else.

Both Tory and Labour governments through the 1950s and 1960s got close to the current target of 300,000 homes each year, only because Local Authorities were building over 100,000 council houses a year.

POETS recommend scrapping the Oxford-to-Cambridge Expressway, spending a small proportion of the funds on the East-West rail link and encouraging all local authorities across the country to build new social housing (building up to say 100,000 units a year by 2025).

We agree.


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