AN EMOTIONAL councillor who was forced by the Government to build more houses in her district spoke about the damaging effect it will have on swathes of beautiful Oxfordshire countryside.

Green councillor Sue Roberts, who was one of the first to speak at today’s long-awaited public examination of South Oxfordshire's Local Plan, said it had been ‘the worst year’ of her life as she braced for her district to be ‘ravaged’ by 28,500 new homes.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick ordered the council to adopt the plan by December this year after months of uncertainty over its future.

Mr Jenrick stepped in after South Oxfordshire’s Lib Dem and Green-led council had wanted to throw it out because of worries about too many homes being built.

This put the major plan under a ‘national spotlight’.

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During the public discussion today a number of problems – including Mr Jenrick’ s heavy-handedness – were identified by participants.

These included affordability, low-grade and part-time jobs, housing needs and effects on the climate.

Professor Richard Harding, who spoke on behalf of the countryside charity CPRE, argued: “We have seen in the last ten years the opening of Westgate, the vast expansion of Bicester Village and also, more locally, the expansion of Didcot shopping centres.

“A lot of these did bring retail jobs but they are mainly part-time and it is very unlikely – even before Covid-19 – that such centres are likely to continue to expand.”

Professor Harding said that ‘a proper breakdown’ of the types and quality of jobs created was needed.

He added: “We have been building houses at three of four times the rate of household need and that has actually increased the affordability gap.

“Clearly, building our way out of the housing crisis is not going to work.”

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Councillor Neil Fawcett, who spoke on behalf of the Liberal Democrat group, also highlighted the importance of taking into account the current state of ‘big economy downfall’.

He said: “Clearly when this process started neither Covid-19 nor the prospect of a no-deal Brexit could have been foreseen.

“It is highly likely we will have enormous difficulties in delivering a high figure of homes in the early years of the plan.”

But instead of addressing Mr Fawcett’s concerns, planning inspector Jonathan Bore, who lead the first day of the examination, put his foot down and dismissed them.

He told speakers to ‘steer clear’ from talking about politics and to stop ‘latching onto’ Covid-19.

Two months ago Mr Bore also inspected and signed off Oxford City Council’s Local Plan, which includes 724 homes in the Green Belt and is dependent on surrounding districts like South Oxfordshire building homes to ‘meet Oxford’s need’.

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Councillors, however, found it difficult to refrain from the subjects when debating the future of the housing market.

Addressing the planning inspector, Ms Roberts said: “I really do not understand how we can hope for a fair outcome with this process.

“I am sorry our officers have to defend the impossible and that you have to inspect a plan that must not fail, otherwise further intervention action will be taken by Robert Jenrick.”

A strong-worded letter sent yesterday to the Housing Secretary by leader of SODC Sue Cooper echoed councillors’ concerns.

The examination, set to run for two weeks, is being broadcast on YouTube.