Neighbourhood Planning Case Study

Progress on the Woodcote Neighbourhood Plan

6 July 2012

Woodcote is a village of about 2500 residents in South Oxfordshire off the Reading to Wallingford road. It has a long history of community action. For example, it produced a very impressive parish plan in 2008 covering nine areas of activity ranging from health, social and sport to the built and natural environment, and the plan recommended actions with priorities and timescales.

So it was perhaps not surprising that when the chance to be a NP Front Runner came along last year, Woodcote was up for it. Having already produced a pretty comprehensive community plan in the shape of their parish plan, Woodcote residents decided that they wanted to focus on one issue – housing. They knew that they would have to accept their fair share of new housing, but, like Thame, they wanted to integrate new housing as sympathetically as possible into the existing village rather than have a large lump of housing bolted on unthinkingly at the edge of the village.

So they have had a laser like focus on this one issue starting with analysing the need – where starter housing for young people looms particularly large – and identifying in a very methodical and transparent way, the potential sites, large and small, across the village that might be suitable.

Because they are a parish, they have not had to create a forum. The Parish Council agreed that an advisory group of volunteers should be formed to propose a draft plan which it could then consider. This volunteer group was formed in September last year. There are fifteen of them, including a couple of parish councillors, and they meet fortnightly. They have been working in sub groups with impressive energy on six work stands – assessing the need for owned and rented housing; identifying sites; determining selection criteria to prioritise sites; researching design criteria; looking at infrastructure issues and addressing sustainability.

They have had advice from the Oxfordshire Rural Community Council who are conducting an independent survey of housing need for them and also from the national organisation known as Locality and from the CPRE. They sing the praises of the Oxfordshire Data Observatory run by Oxfordshire County Council for providing rich and detailed sources of data and they send a big thank you to a lady there called Inga!

Four hundred people attended the first public consultation event in March which was informally structured so local people could really get to grips with the issues and give their feedback. Building on that feedback, they are continuing with the six work strands with a deadline of December for producing conclusions. The draft Plan will be presented to the Parish Council in February. After which there has to be a six week public consultation, then in April, if all goes well it will be presented to South Oxfordshire District Council. Their aim is to have the report just over a year from now with the Referendum in September 2013. They reckon that their direct costs will be about £10,000.

Clive Booth