THE Oxford Local Plan for 10,000 new homes approved this week will add to unacceptable urban sprawl, politicians and campaigners have warned.

A group of 25 councillors, campaigners and Layla Moran MP have signed a letter to the government’s housing secretary, asking him to intervene in two plans for new homes currently in the pipeline in Oxfordshire.

The letter, penned by Alan Lodwick of the Cherwell Development Watch Alliance, contests claims that Oxford needs 28,000 new homes in the next 20 years.

It follows hot on the heels of an announcement that Oxford’s Local Plan is ready to be put in place, after government inspectors said the predicted housing need of the city was correct.

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Local Plans are documents where councils set out how many homes they would like to be built in their areas and where over a 15-year period.

Oxford City Council’s plan was approved by inspectors earlier this week and is likely to be adopted by councillors when they discuss it on June 8.

It could see 10,884 homes built within the city's boundaries by 2036.

Cherwell District Council is also undertaking a partial review of its Local Plan, to decide the sites where 4,400 homes for commuters into Oxford should be built.

These 4,400 homes are part of a shared 14,000 homes which will be built in the four districts surrounding Oxford to help the city meet its housing need.

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Green Belt land near Yarnton. Picture: Giles Lewis

But the letter argues that the calculations which have led to these housebuilding targets have produced an overestimate.

The four-page document, addressed to the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government Robert Jenrick, acknowledges that planning might ‘not be a top priority’ during the coronavirus pandemic.

But it warns that building on swathes of green belt land, which is protected to stop Oxford from spreading endlessly, would be a mistake.

And it adds many of the new homes which were purportedly being built to help address the housing crisis, especially around Kidlington, Yarnton and Begbroke, would be given over to Oxford University to house staff and students in the area of the new Begbroke Science Park.

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In a press statement, the Cherwell Development Watch Alliance, a group of north Oxfordshire residents, said they were concerned about gaps between the three villages north of Oxford being filled in.

The group argue that building Cherwell District Council’s 4,400 homes for the city would ‘fill the Kidlington Gap, destroy the North Oxford Golf Course, and effectively join the city to the villages of Begbroke, Kidlington and Yarnton in one urban sprawl’.

Chairman Giles Lewis did say the county as a whole should help to ensure Oxford`s world class university continued to thrive, but he added: “We believe that this can be achieved without destroying what makes Oxford such a special place and which the Green Belt protects."

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Giles Lewis

Signatories also pointed out that the election-winning Conservative manifesto had pledged to prevent building on Green Belt land unless there was a justifiable need for it.

Despite the protestations of the letter, Oxford City Council’s estimation of housing need was vindicated by the inspectors at the start of the week.

Jonathan Bore and Nick Fagan's appraisal of the city council’s Local Plan concluded that it was legally sound and effectively approved it.

The inspectors said the city council was justified in its approach to housebuilding, including on Green Belt land.

They weighed up the council’s housing need calculations from 2018, which reckoned 1,400 homes would need to be built each year, against a local housing need assessment by the government in 2014, which said 746 homes would need to be built in Oxford each year.

The two inspectors agreed for the city council to achieve its goal of building 678 affordable homes a year, roughly double that amount, or 1,400 homes would need to be built each year.

They concluded: “The situation in Oxford, with its stark inequalities and a very large and growing number of households unable to access market housing, clearly justifies the plan’s approach.”