Two speakers from SHIELD, plus residents of Watlington, Cuxham, Rofford and Culham, together with Chalgrove Parish Council Chair Ann Pritchard and Chalgrove Ward District Councillor David Turner, joined together to present their input to the new SODC Cabinet team. We were joined in speaking against the current iteration of the Local Plan by a representative of Taylor Wimpey, promoting another site near Didcot at Hagbourne Fields. The only person speaking in favour of the current version was Ken Glendinning, Head of Strategic Land at Homes England.
Most of the speakers referred to the issues surrounding Chalgrove Airfield, and the disastrous effect development would have on the current Leaseholder, Martin-Baker. Reference was also made to the issue of noise from the Airfield, the lack of adequate road infrastructure proposed, the funding gap between the Homes England plan and the County Council’s estimate, and the chances of a Compulsory Purchase Order being successful. Other speakers highlighted the issues surrounding the choice of Culham and its proximity to Abingdon and Didcot, and more generally about the soundness of the local plan itself. Christian Leigh, representing the residents of Rofford, expanded on the various legal opinions that have been published in recent days, both for and against, and identified key issues that would mitigate against Chalgrove Airfield. On the other side of the argument, Ken Glendinning repeated previous assertions that negotiation was the way forward, even though that door has been firmly closed by Martin-Baker. Questioned specifically on roads, he was unable to elaborate on any increase in funding.
Following the public contribution, the Cabinet member for Planning, Felix Bloomfield, revealed that he had an alternative to the two options that had been already published. The new “Option 4” essentially is looking to reassess every potential strategic (i.e. large) site in the District, to see if it should be included in a revised Plan to be submitted to the Inspectorate. Thus, every site promoted to SODC – including Chalgrove, Culham, Grenoble Rd, Wick Farm, Northfield, Lower Elsfield, Harrington, North Weston, Berinsfield, plus recently submitted sites near Reading such as Sonning Common and Emmer Green – will be reappraised to see which of them might be suitable as a Strategic Site. Then Officers will decide which sites to put into the Plan.
The caveat on this is that SODC consider they need agreement from the Government (Dept of Housing, Communities and Local Government) since the delay may prejudice the Oxford Housing Deal deadline. If the DHCLG give their blessing, then this will be the way forward. If not, then SODC will go with Option 3 (keeping Chalgrove, but with reserve sites). The primary reason for rejecting Option 2 appears to still be the requirement for Section 18 and Section 19 Consultations, although legal opinion is against this requirement.
The Cabinet voted in favour of this amendment and will take it to full Council on Tuesday 15th May.
Chalgrove SHIELD cautiously welcomes this development, as it allows for some 15 sites to be reviewed on their merits, based on the latest information available. In the case of the Airfield, this includes some extremely strong statements from Martin-Baker, which has recently written to SODC to point out that any development on the Chalgrove site would lead to their operations being “extinguished”. For other sites, this may bring some hope to Culham, who have long argued about the risks of flooding and congestion in their area. For sites such as the South Oxfordshire Science Village (Land South of Grenoble Road) and Wick Farm (offering low cost Key-Worker housing and parking for the Hospitals) this opportunity will be seized with both hands as a chance to showcase their proposals to perhaps a more amenable audience.
Our cautious welcome is based on the requirement for the DHCLG to agree to this proposal. SODC can show that they now have a 5-year land supply and can also demonstrate that they have spent a great deal of time and resources on the Plan to date; this may tip the balance in their favour. Our concern is that if the DHCLG decide not to support SODC, then Option 3 is the next preferred course, and this option keeps Chalgrove in the plan, despite the myriad issues that surround this site.
The stance that Martin-Baker have taken is unequivocal; they are vehemently against the Airfield being included. Should Option 3 go through, this will put them into a legal battle with Homes England, which could last for years and will be unlikely to deliver any housing within the required timescales. If the Inspector finds this to be a significant enough concern, he may rule the entire Local Plan unsound. If this were to happen, our District may become a hunting ground for speculative development. This would be the worst possible outcome, not just for SODC but for the residents who will have to fight off ever more rapacious developers hiding behind the Government’s call for yet more housing.