A new way of calculating housing targets across Cherwell district is set to give councillors more scope to refuse planning applications – but for how long?
The executives at Cherwell District Council – the team of Conservative councillors that run the authority – have week voted to proceed with a switch to the government’s standard method of calculating housing needs in the region.
It means that the number in Cherwell’s current local plan, which says the authority must be able to deliver an average of 1,142 new homes per year over five years, has been replaced with a lower figure of 742 per year.
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, which allocates areas for different uses, including development, 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.
The new, lower requirement means Cherwell now has allocated sites to cover the next 5.4 years rather than 3.5, meaning the council can now say no to applications based on the terms of its own plan with less risk of a national inspector overruling its decisions.
Deputy leader Councillor Ian Corkin (Con, Fringford & Heyfords) said: “The 20-odd parishes I represent will be very pleased to see they have received an extra level of protection, not over sympathetic or organic growth, the sort that can help the vitality of a community, but from some of the hugely disproportionate, speculative type of applications that we have seen floating around the district. I think this is very good news indeed.”
However, Cherwell’s local plan is under review, and the latest published report for a meeting held last month (January 2023) indicated more than 1,000 new homes per year would be needed to meet Cherwell’s needs, a figure that increases to more than 1,300 when the unmet housing needs of Oxford is considered, something Cherwell has committed to helping with.
It was made clear throughout Monday’s executive meeting that there would be a separate housing land supply position calculated for Oxford’s unmet needs, but Councillor John Broad (Ind, Bicester West) raised the question of what could come next.
“Certainly, this is good news, getting 5.4 years controls the development to plans that we make rather than the plans that developers make,” he said.
“I am still slightly concerned by the numbers that will come up for the review of the local plan, if that’s going to be the next stage. I presume we are going to use the same principle of the standard method that gave us this 5.4-year supply in order to retain it into the future.”
David Peckford, the council’s assistant director of planning and development, replied: “I think it is a straightforward no comment on that, we have due process to follow, and it would not be appropriate to do that this evening.
“The (revised local) plan was presented to the executive on 19 January but not approved for consultation at that point. We have further work to do, and we will come back to members in due course.”