Councillors in West Oxfordshire will require more robust reasons for refusing housing plans over the next year after confirmation that the district is falling short of its housing land targets.
West Oxfordshire District Council, which covers towns including Witney, Chipping Norton, Woodstock and Burford, as well as many rural villages, has published that it can evidence only a 4.1-year supply for new homes.
Rules state that councils must have enough land dedicated to meet targets for new homes for the next five years – known as a five-year housing land supply – for its local plan to carry full weight when planning applications come forward.
Authorities that fall short must apply what is known as a “tilted balance” where there is a “presumption in favour of sustainable development” on land that the district has not allocated for housing unless strong enough planning reasons can be offered for refusal.
West Oxfordshire declared it could show a five-year supply, which developer Greystoke disputed during an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate – a national body that has the final say when applicants are unhappy with outcomes from councils.
The council could not counter Greystoke’s claims that planning permission had elapsed on some of the region’s smaller sites or show that outline planning permission on larger sites would deliver housing in the next five years.
That led the inspector to rule that the actual figure “is closest to the appellant’s submitted position of 3.68 years” – more than 26 per cent short of the council’s stated position.
Councillors, particularly those on the region’s two planning committees, voiced concerns and have been critical of planning officers, particularly during a development control committee meeting held earlier in November when it was confirmed the reassessed position would be published imminently.
The local plan covers a 20-year period up to 2031 in which 15,950 new homes are set to be built – 13,200 to meet West Oxfordshire’s needs plus a 2,750 overspill from the city of Oxford at 275 per year from the start of the financial year 2021-22.
That adds to the figure that gradually increases in West Oxfordshire during these five years. It means the region targeting a total of 800 new homes this financial year, escalating to 1,125 new homes per year by 2024-25 through to 2031.
Sites allocated for housing in the local plan have scope for 7,720 new homes, but current projections anticipate that only 2,160 of these will come forward in the current five-year period, with 450 at East Witney, more than 1,000 at North Witney and more than 2,000 at Salt Cross expected to come forward beyond the financial year 2026-27.