Oxford Local Plan 2036 – OCS Comments

Our response to the Preferred Options consultation document

26 August 2017

Oxford Civic Society has submitted comments on Oxford City’s ‘Preferred Options’ document which is the latest stage in preparing a new Local Plan for the City. We have reviewed all 107 Preferred Options. We agree with 34 of them and agree with a further 61 with reservations and suggested refinements. We do not agree with 11 of the Preferred Options. We have added an additional option for consideration. We also comment on strategic planning issues including the coordination of Oxford’s Local Plan with those of the neighbouring Districts, city centre polices and the synchronization of Oxford Local Plan preparation with current and planned city-wide and city centre transport studies. Our heartfelt thanks go to our Planning, Transport, Housing and Oxfordshire Futures Groups for their hard work in preparing this response.

Inevitably, our full response is a long read. You can download it here. It needs to be read in parallel with the City’s Preferred options (also a long read), which is here. However, we have drawn out some of the points which we feel we need to make most strongly and summarise them below. Given Oxford’s desperate shortage of affordable housing it is not surprising that many of our major concerns are in this area.

  • Responsibilities for planning in the Oxford city region are fragmented and uncoordinated. Although we appreciate that the Local Plan 2036 can only include policies for the city itself, we recommend that the Plan clearly explains how it fits in with planning in the wider region and how transport and other services are being coordinated regionally, not just in the city.
  • Similarly, the Plan needs to take account of other current studies; the Oxfordshire Joint Spatial Plan, the Oxfordshire Infrastructure Strategy, the East-West Economic Corridor and the impact these may have on the city itself.
  • As the Transport Background Paper recognises, it is important to establish a transport strategy to support new developments and, we hope, address current transport deficiencies. We very much welcome the City and the County working together on a study of the management of traffic in the city as a whole – which is critical to making non-car travel a higher priority – and on a study into the needs of all forms of travel in the city centre. This is something we have long been calling for!
  • The city centre has its particular problems. We think the Local Plan should include specific policies for its development.
  • There is inevitably a conflict between the city’s duty to provide and safeguard both housing and employment. We have commented in detail on the various policy options relating to this. While agreeing that certain employment sites should be protected we argue that where there is a choice, housing should be prioritised.
  • We oppose options which prefer providing larger homes over smaller. The consultation document does not present any evidence that Oxford needs more larger homes, and our own evidence points the other way.
  • We encourage the Council to adopt policies which will protect affordable social housing from being lost into the private sector.
  • We also encourage the Council to find ways of strengthening its policies requiring developers to provide a proportion of affordable housing so that it is harder for developers to argue their schemes would be unviable. Land prices paid by developers should reflect Council policy, not the other way round.
  • We suggest a new policy recognising self-build and custom housebuilding.
  • We support policies which would allow higher-density housing developments in parts of the City. This could include 4- and 5-storey blocks. But we also agree that any such developments need to be sensitive and appropriate, and that assessing their impact needs more detailed study than just ‘view cones’.
  • We welcome the policies which seek to make much more of Oxford’s waterways in terms of access, amenity and attractiveness.
  • Transport Assessments and Travel Plans should be a required part of the planning process from the outset, not an afterthought as they can be now.

We also sent a supplementary comment on Dunstan Park, Headington arguing that it should be classified as not suitable for development.