The Chief Executive of West Oxfordshire District Council, Giles Hughes, has described the outcome of the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 as “very disappointing” after “a lot of effort” from officers and members over the years.
He expressed his opinion while delivering an update to the West Oxfordshire council’s cabinet, the ruling body of councillors, this week.
The Oxfordshire Plan 2050 saw all five city and district councils attempt to come together to create a joint vision for how the development would be handled across the county.
But it was announced in August that the various authorities “were unable to reach agreement on the approach to planning for future housing needs”.
“I do feel from my position, from a West Oxfordshire point of view, that we tried very hard to make it work as best we could,” he said. “We tried to put forward suggestions and ways to reach agreement, but it was not possible.”
He added that the councils still need to work together. “We can’t ignore the issues across our boundaries,” he said. “We need to engage with our neighbouring councils and think about cross-boundary issues when we think about our local plans.
“There will now be a much greater emphasis on our local plan, the vehicle for us to determine what we think our appropriate housing target is, what our planning strategy is, where we think the appropriate development sites are, what we need to do to protect the environment and deliver our zero-carbon ambitions. That has to be our focus.
“We have to be careful not to lose everything from the work on the Oxfordshire Plan. On a lot of the topics, there was a lot of agreement across all of the councils in Oxfordshire.”
West Oxfordshire District Council has vowed to “play nice” despite distancing itself from blame over the collapse of a joint plan for housing across Oxfordshire.
Deputy leader Councillor Duncan Enright (Lab, Witney East) said that officers and councillors, including Conservatives who had led the council until May’s elections, had been “hugely supportive of the plan and wished to see it through right up to the point where it became clear that others were not willing or able to do that”, adding “that was also true of the county council”.
“I think it is fair to say that West Oxfordshire will continue to play a role as a peacemaker and unifier across the Oxfordshire system,” he said, concluding that “it is in our interests to play nice”.
Councillor Michele Mead (Con, Carterton South), leader of the council until May, was “a little bit alarmed” by those comments. She said: “Councillor Enright suggested others were not playing nice if we are the ones who are going to play nice.
“My question would be how are we going to build these relationships… I am just concerned that we are not playing nice.”
Current leader Councillor Andy Graham (Lib Dem, Charlbury & Finstock) said Councillor Mead should “rest assured that we have not all fallen out” and that there had been no “throwing toys out of the pram”.
“We may not agree with everything that is in each other’s plans, but it is about respecting that the responsibilities we hold are different. We have to act in the interests of our residents but see a bigger picture too,” he added.
He acknowledged that “some authorities will have a different emphasis” from West Oxfordshire, laying out his view that the region must look beyond financial elements when considering its future plans.
“You will hear the word growth,” he said. “Growth isn’t just about housing; that is a fallacy. It is about how a community grows over a sustained period of time.
“It is not just about economics; it is about the health and well-being of the community. There are all these factors that sometimes get missed out because growth is perceived as a financial way of assessing the needs of a community.
“Finance is a layer, but it is equal to the other ones. We are making sure those (other) layers are thoroughly paid attention to.”