We could be forgiven to thinking we have been plunged into a parallel universe! This year has found us having to cope and deal with a global pandemic, along with the unforgiveable demise of our local democracy at the hands of central Government.
SODC remain under a directive from the Secretary of State for housing, Robert Jenrick, to adopt the current draft Local Plan before the end of this year. This is despite the wish of our District Council to withdraw the draft plan and start again. Many Councillors, and local residents, feel the plan is fundamentally flawed and does not meet the needs of our District. The plans as it stands over provides for housing by many thousands and contains many strategic sites that are wholly unsuitable and/or unsustainable. The plan was drafted and pushed through the process by the Conservative led Council, with many of its own Councillors feeling ‘shackled’ into toeing party lines and voting the plan through at numerous meetings. A change of leadership in the Council brought new hope – residents had used their vote and wanted to see a new way of thinking in the Council, with the promise of the plan being withdrawn and rewritten with the genuine needs of our communities (for housing and addressing climate change) at its very heart.
Sadly, this new hope and ambition has now been undemocratically pushed aside by the actions of Central Government. Whilst it is not uncommon for Central Government to intervene when a Council is “failing” (whether in their actions or financial status) it is unprecedented to see intervention in a Council that is well run, with good financial management and a healthy housing land supply. SODC find themselves in uncharted waters and have an impossible decision to make. This week has seen two of the 3 Council meetings take place whereby decisions have to be made as to whether the directive from the Secretary of State is followed or not. To adopt it as it stands (albeit modified in parts to reflect climate change) will leave us with a plan that few people want or need. In contrast, to not adopt the plan leaves the Council with the grave reality of further Government intervention. Such intervention could involve either the Government implementing the Local Plan or asking the county Council to. Either way SODC would lose control of the plan and any influence or input would be very difficult.
A further meeting of the full Council will take place tonight at 6pm (link below) whereby all Councillors will be asked to vote on the adoption of the Local Plan. Whilst it remains to be seen what will happen it is fully expected that the plan will, reluctantly – and with very heavy hearts, be adopted. Should this be the case, we have no doubt that the Council will immediately start work on the next Local Plan – one that will have our District and the genuine needs of our community at its very core.
So where does this leave Chalgrove Airfield? Even though the Airfield remains in the Local Plan, this does not guarantee that development will ever take place. Planning permission must be secured – an uphill struggle given the numerous objections that have been submitted, including by departments within SODC, and that Martin-Baker still require the whole site to continue their operations. Compulsory Purchase Order proceedings will need to take place for Homes England to gain control of the lease on the Airfield, all of which will take time and money.
Whilst writing, we wanted to take the opportunity to thank our local District and Parish Councillors for their incredibly hard work and dedication in working for a meaningful and community-led Local Plan. We know they are as crushed as we are with the way this process has unfolded, and their determination to continue the fight and honour our democratic vote is to be applauded.