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Column 18th May 2022

Local plan and the Levelling Up Bill - is local democracy dead?

Last Thursday I received notification that the District Council want our views of the issues to be covered in the new joint local plan (covering south Oxfordshire and the Vale of the White Horse).

This plan to 2041 will replace the current local plan to 2031 and will guide the kinds of new housing and jobs needed and where they should go.

The actual number of homes in the plan will be decided by the Oxfordshire Plan 2050, which hasn’t yet been agreed by the District Councils across the County yet.

The timing of this consultation is interesting as the Queens Speech (only two days before this consultation was announced) proposes a lot of changes to planning legislation.

We haven’t had time to study the local plan documents in detail yet so I’ll cover that in future columns but we can look at some of the changes in legislation.

The day after the Queen’s speech, the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill received its first reading in the House of Commons.

A government policy paper published with the Bill provides more details of the government’s many proposed changes to the planning system.

Local design codes will become mandatory but we already have design guidelines in the Vale so that won’t make much difference.

The Bill says that the current combination of Section 106 agreements, which specify how developer contributions to infrastructure will be spent, and the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), which allows the Council to decide how the money will be spent, will be replaced by a new Infrastructure Levy but it doesn’t currently sound much different – I guess the devil will be in the detail.

There will be a new requirement for local authorities to prepare infrastructure delivery strategies to outline how the money will be spent and what the spending priorities are.

But given the cancellation of our new leisure centre and the lack of a published leisure strategy for the Vale I don’t have confidence that any strategy would be followed anyway.

The Bill also requires each local plan to be limited to locally specific matters such as allocating land for development, detailing required infrastructure and setting out principles of good design.

It says that "General policies on issues that apply in most areas will be set out nationally and contained in a suite of National Development Management Policies, which will have the same weight as plans”.

So less local democracy then.


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