Sue Roberts, Green councillor on SODC, considers the impact and issues with plans to build tens of thousands of new homes in the area.

Dr Roberts has a doctorate in Zoology from Oxford University, and has worked as a medical writer and domestic energy efficiency advisor, running her own company.

She has lived in Wallingford for 30 years bringing up her children and contributing to civic life.

In May 2019, she was elected for the Green Party onto South Oxfordshire District Council where she chairs the Climate Emergency Advisory Committee.

What is a billion? Is it normal to be a billionaire? You could be one, if you accumulated £30,000 a year. But it would take 33,000 years. Surprised? I was. Humans did not evolve the skill to conceive of large numbers.

So what is 33,000 homes in South Oxfordshire? It is nine towns the size of Wallingford, or seven towns the size of Henley and is the number of homes for which land is allocated in the emerging Local Plan: one new home for every two existing homes. Between 2011 and 2034, the goal is to see two-thirds of these homes delivered. Nine years into this experiment, we have experienced seven undesirable consequences of forced buildings’ growth.

The first, is that developers fail to meet the targets. If the council cannot demonstrate that developers have put spades in the ground providing the next five years worth of homes, then the council loses the so-called ’5y housing land supply’ (despite adequate land allocated, and building being in the control of developers). Developers can then speculate for planning permissions on new land. Homes are built everywhere but where they were planned.

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The second, is that too many homes are planned, more than can be filled. By 2018, 2,000 newly-empty properties were added in South Oxfordshire: the difference between homes built and new households formed. There is a near infinite market in second homes, emptying out town centres and Chilterns and Cotswold villages. And still targets were not met, developers lost the council its 5y land supply resulting in speculation and in allocated land languishing in planning blight. Our growing population could fill a quarter of the target number of homes: one and a half Wallingfords, not six (Office for National Statistics). House prices have not fallen.

The third, is that poor quality housing is being built; filling the Oxford Mail with sad stories of desperate new home owners. One friend of mine suffered his floor slab to be jackhammered-up because the concrete had failed; another is resigned to her new home not functioning properly. New homes are not zero-carbon - all will need retrofitting at great expense for the UK to achieve net zero carbon by 2050.

The fourth, is missing infrastructure. £9 billion needed to support new homes across Oxfordshire has not been forthcoming (Oxfordshire Infrastructure Strategy). Basic services such as healthcare and schools are in short supply, roads have become congested, householders have been left without connections to the sewage system. Roads for the whole of Oxfordshire are bidded for retrospectively with strings attached: the £215 million Growth Deal requires South to push its new plan through; the £218 million Housing and Infrastructure Funding requires us to plan an extra 6,000 homes.

The fifth is degradation of our landscape, already the worst for nature in the south of England outside London. One of the chief drivers of ecosystem collapse is urbanisation. Not just buildings taking up land that could be enriched for nature, but also roads criss-crossing the landscape, spreading pollution and cutting up habitats into small parcels. Wildlife cannot survive on these islands.

The sixth is loss of food security in a country where we import half our food. Best and most versatile farmland used to be sacrosanct, but farms are swallowed up in over-development reducing our resilience to food shortages. Ever-escalating global heating is causing crop failures here and around the world and we are foolish not to aim to increase our self-sufficiency.

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The seventh is a divided community, not least in council where difficulties in allocating land for such high numbers led to a split in the previous Conservative administration, and their subsequent overthrowal by the Liberal Democrats and Greens, elected with a mandate to reject the new Local Plan.

Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State has stepped in to prevent this. If the council does not progress the plan he will transfer planning powers to the Conservative County Council. The District Council will be required to provide planning officers who will then follow Conservative rather than Liberal Democrat-Green direction. The unfortunate consequences will undermine the prosperity of South Oxfordshire.

Dr Sue Roberts South Oxfordshire District Councillor (Green); Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership Board Member