The Battle for the Green Belt
The first of three debates celebrating 50 years of OCS
18 April 2019
In a crowded Town Hall Assembly Room on Thursday, the first of three debates organised by the Oxford Civic Society took place. To mark the Society’s 50th anniversary, key topics of concern to Oxford’s residents and workers are being debated with much audience participation. In this first debate, the subject was Oxford’s Green Belt: positive or negative?
Speakers Bob Price, recent Leader of Oxford City Council, and Mike Tyce of the Campaign to Protect Rural England crossed swords with strong argument and information. Bob Price spoke of population pressures and the need to support economic growth with adequate housing. The real problems of providing affordable and social housing for key workers were stressed. He said that 5% of the Green Belt is needed for a balanced housing strategy.
Mike Tyce said that Oxford’s Green Belt had been established in 1958 and that Oxfordshire’s Green Belts represented a quarter of the county’s total land area. He said that a recent survey showed that two thirds of Oxfordshire’s population were ‘overwhelmingly’ in favour of Green Belt policy. The issue was about distinguishing between what Oxford and its people actually needed and growth for its own sake. Needed housing should be accommodated, although the claimed extent of the need was questionable: the Growth Deal itself stated that the housing numbers proposed were well in excess of actual need. It was the economic growth strategy that was not “needed” in Oxford, as Oxford already had more than full employment. Growth could be accommodated elsewhere.
Mike Tyce also criticised the Oxfordshire Growth Board and several of the 23 audience member contributions also referred to this. ‘Unelected’ was the main criticism but Bob Price pointed out that the Growth Board has no planning powers and that these belong its member District Councils (including the City Council) with statutory requirements for public consultation.
Some audience members argued for higher housing densities. There were also strong feelings expressed about expensive new build houses being bought by ‘rich London commuters’ – couldn’t there be a restrictive covenant preventing this? Isn’t a thorough review of Green Belt policy needed after its 60 year existence? The lack of finance for the City Council to build social housing must be tackled by central government. The Northern Gateway development, owned by St Johns College, came in for criticism, along with the North Oxford Golf Course proposals, with the fear of almost exclusive provision of more expensive housing, and the likelihood that it would simply serve London commuters.
The full text of each speaker’s opening speech is available here:
Further debates on tackling air pollution and the proposed Oxford- Cambridge Expressway take place on 16 May and 17 June respectively. Let’s hope they are as lively, informative and (relatively) good natured as this first one proved to be.
Professor Margaret Maden