Following the conclusion of the Examination in Public during August of SODC’s draft Local Plan 2034 the Inspector has now issued his preliminary conclusions.
Disappointingly Chalgrove Airfield remains in the draft local plan. We had been quietly hopeful that common sense would finally prevail but predictably we can’t help but feel that the easy route has been adopted. The draft local plan contains so many great policies with regard to the future development of our district but it would seem that our historic village is to be the exception to the rule and not offered the protection it so rightly deserves. Here is what the Inspector had to say:
- The Chalgrove Airfield allocation, STRAT7, provides an important opportunity to deliver a substantial part of the District’s housing needs on a largely previously-developed site without landscape significance outside the Green Belt. Although several miles from Oxford and other towns, the allocation would be large enough, particularly when taken with the village, to develop into the size of a small town with an adequate range of facilities and there is growth potential beyond the end of the plan period. The transport infrastructure that is required to support it, including bus services and the bypasses to Stadhampton, Chiselhampton and Cuxham, would also provide substantial benefits to other communities. Masterplanning would need to ensure that the allocation was well integrated with the existing village.
- The site contains a leading global technological aviation-related business on a long lease, and the allocation requires a relocated runway. There are unresolved issues about the adequacy of this alternative provision and the relationship of the existing business to the new housing. A range of consents would be required, especially from the CAA and HSE. But my conclusion at this stage is that these circumstances do not make the allocation unsound or undevelopable such that it should be removed from the plan, for a number of reasons.
- These include Homes England’s CPO powers; the fact that this is a site allocation, not a planning application, with flexibility to adjust development and operational areas if necessary; the policy flexibility in the total number of homes to be delivered; the satisfactory co-existence of the existing operation with nearby Chalgrove; the absence of evidence that the allocation would inevitably conflict with the 2015 General Aviation Strategy or any emerging strategy arising from Aviation 2050; and the additional flexibility (subject to planning, environmental, health and safety and aviation regulations) which might be brought into the equation from Homes England’s recent acquisition of land to the north of the site, which should not be discounted.
- Development planning inevitably involves grappling with uncertainty, but there is enough evidence in the case of Chalgrove Airfield to indicate that there is a reasonable prospect of the allocation being implemented. The Council’s housing trajectory indicates a relatively long lead-in time for this site, considerably longer than that envisaged by the site promoter, and the plan is robust enough to deal with any delay in implementation. Were the site to prove difficult to develop, the situation would be monitored and the issue could be reconsidered in a subsequent plan. Revised wording for the policy and text have been put forward to address cycle connectivity, bus frequency, retail provision and biodiversity and these can go forward as main modifications for consultation.
So what happens next? Well our fight goes on. There is still a very long way to go before anything can be built on the airfield, not least the necessary planning permissions and compulsory purchase orders in respect of Martin-Bakers lease. Whilst the Inspector’s preliminary conclusions are digested and reviewed by us and other key stakeholders, we may also find other legal proceedings (for example judicial reviews) being launched in relation to the draft local plan and the process we have just been through.
This battle is certainly turning out to have so many twists and turns and has been going on for so much longer than anyone had anticipated, but we are not beaten and we will carry on fighting for what we believe to be right for our district and our lovely village. Further updates to follow in due course.
To see the full version of the Inspector’s preliminary conclusions, click here:
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