An independent group of individuals involved in Planning and Transport in Oxfordshire have published a report highlighting the potentially influential role that unelected bodies have in proposals for Oxfordshire's future development.
The group POETS (Planning Oxfordshire's Environment and Transport Sustainably) are concerned about the current direction (or lack of it) in land use planning and transport policy in the area have set out to influence current policymakers whose decisions affect spatial and transport planning in Oxfordshire.
In their report, the group highlights the role being played by:
- The National Infrastructure Commission, which is promoting major growth in the Oxford to Cambridge “arc”, including doubling Oxfordshire’s population by 2050
- Highways England, a government company promoting a motorway standard “expressway” across this area
- England’s Economic Heartland, a made-up area which overlaps with the arc, and again is promoting major development
- The Oxfordshire Local Economic Partnership (LEP), which contains some local authority appointed members although they are outnumbered by other interests. Amongst other things, this body has produced a “Local Industrial Strategy” which has to be taken into account by local planning authorities in preparing their local plans
- The Oxfordshire Growth Board. While this involves the leaders of the county and five district councils, they are not directly elected, and the board also contains representatives of other interests
- Homes England, the government’s self-styled “housing accelerator”. It is advocating major housing growth, notably, on land it owns at Chalgrove, in a location badly served by public transport and poorly located for travel by bike or on foot.
The report points out that the increasing influence of such bodies carries risks both for the future of Oxfordshire and for local democracy itself.
Chris Cousins, one of the report’s authors, said, “We are concerned that ordinary people feel increasingly disenfranchised from the planning process. Anyone who is concerned about climate change, for example, will find little to reassure them that these unelected bodies are proposing substantive action to address it.
“Despite professing support for local decision-making, central government has reduced both the power and the resources available to directly elected local authorities. The creeping growth of unelected organisations is unhealthy for our democracy.
“We need government at all levels to give priority to tackling the climate emergency. This should involve empowering directly elected local authorities, and enabling us as citizens both to contribute and to hold our elected representatives to account.”
The report is available to view at www.poetsplanningoxon.uk