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Column 23rd June 2021

What is the purpose of the Growth Board?

In the Herald last week there was a short item about the Growth Board.

In it Emily Smith, Leader of the Vale District Council, suggested that the Growth Board should be renamed to reflect that it is a partnership with a focus on planning for the future and the environment.

She is quoted as saying that “Using the word board implies decision making, of which we do very little really”.

I’m confused. If it doesn’t make decisions what’s it there for?

In Oxfordshire we have OxLEP (Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership) with the role to champion Oxfordshire’s economic potential, acting as a catalyst and convener to drive a dynamic, sustainable and growing economy – their words not mine.

According to the OxLEP website the Oxfordshire Growth Board is a joint committee made up of representatives from OxLEP and the six local authorities of Oxfordshire, working together with key strategic partners.

It has been created to facilitate and enable joint working on economic development, strategic planning and growth, as well as overseeing the delivery of projects that the councils of Oxfordshire are seeking to deliver collaboratively.

Yet these two bodies were responsible for the dreaded SHMA (Strategic Housing Market Assessment) for Oxfordshire which imposed more than 23,000 homes on the Vale in 2012 and have been instrumental in supporting the Oxford Cambridge Arc plans for 1,000,000 new homes.

Many years ago we talked to OxLEP about the need for affordable homes for people who work in Oxfordshire (not executive homes for commuters) and the need to attract more key workers for the NHS, care homes and social care, emergency workers, teachers and other school staff.

Without these people our economy does not have sustainable growth.

Yet OxLEP and the Growth Board seem focused on economic development.

According to government figures the country has very low unemployment but we have a significant shortage of key workers in Oxfordshire.

This may not be the glossy “economic potential” that OxLEP and the Growth Board may like to be associated with, but it’s a core component of our infrastructure and (with the expected growth in the older population) becoming even more important.

So why can’t OxLEP and the Growth Board focus on this for a change and provide the specific accommodation needed to attract key workers (both rental and purchase properties) and the surrounding infrastructure?

Surely all those working for economic growth also want the growth to be sustainable or don’t they care?


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