Oxfordshire County Council is proposing a ‘unitary’ council – just one council for the whole of Oxfordshire.
The ‘One Oxfordshire’ Unitary consultation closed today (1 March). The consultation provided the public with an opportunity to comment on the Council’s draft proposals.
While the NNGO coalition does not have a position on the overall structure of local authority organisation in the county and therefore does not endorse the single County Unitary proposal or those being offered by some District / City Councils, we welcomed the opportunity to respond to the One Oxfordshire Unitary Consultation.
Since one of the main planks of our campaign work is to ensure that all proposed county-wide growth plans are open to full public scrutiny and ongoing public engagement, we want to ensure that any new organisational structure will foster and enhance ongoing public engagement, increase transparency and deliver democratic accountability.
NNGO supports the One Oxfordshire determination to introduce a county-wide spatial approach, irrespective of whether this were achieved via a County based Unitary or the addition of a Combined Authority sitting above two or more Unitary Authorities.
NNGO would also like to see the One Oxfordshire document amended to make a clear commitment to full public scrutiny and ongoing public engagement in all forms of the planning process including Local Transport, Infrastructure, Minerals and Waste and, most importantly, the replacement Local Plan.
We believe mechanisms must be put in place to ensure there is full public scrutiny and ongoing public engagement in all Plan processes and furthermore that they must be subject to independent scrutiny via public examination led by a Planning Inspector. This is currently implied, but not clearly spelt out in the consultation document.
We believe any re-organisation of local authority structure for Oxfordshire should be seized as a valuable opportunity to enhance democratic accountability and we will be seeking to hold those responsible to account for delivering this outcome.
Find out more about the One Oxfordshire Unitary consultation.
At our recent Annual Review Meeting (7 February) coalition partners had the opportunity to reflect on the coalition’s successes over the past year, as well as challenges, and the way ahead.
Successes and challenges:
We had three campaign objectives when the coalition was formed in January 2016 – below is a brief assessment of how well they have been met:
• To raise public awareness of the disparity between “need” and “greed”.
We believe we have had a significant impact given the resources we had available. For example, 30 campaign groups have now signed up to the coalition; we have had good local media coverage; the NNGO website has had approx. 3,000 discrete users; over 240 people have signed up to the NNGO newsletter; and there were several hundred public responses to the Strategic Economic Plan (SEP) consultation, with the vast majority referencing NNGO concerns.
However, there is still a long way to go in raising overall public consciousness of the issues.
• To force a reassessment by the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Growth Board and constituent Local Authorities of the developer-led, aggressive growth strategy being imposed on the county.
Disappointingly, there has been no change to the overall targets. However, we believe there is much greater awareness of the level of concern felt by local people in relation to the growth strategy.
However, on a positive note, an expert panel set up by Government to look at Local Plans has recommended taking aggressive growth targets out of the calculation of housing numbers, and the recent Housing White Paper has recognised that the 5 Year Housing Supply Rules are a ‘blunt tool’ that have had ‘some negative effects on local planning’.
• To demand that Local Authorities and the LEP engage in sustained, transparent and meaningful stakeholder consultation and engagement, allowing the views of local people to influence future planning decisions.
NNGO forced a much-improved public consultation (incl. SEP being reviewed at some full Council meetings) and limited improvements in the final SEP document. However, the overall targets were not influenced.
In summary, we have achieved a great deal in terms of awareness-raising but without as yet forcing any significant change in policy. However, given the level of support that NNGO has attracted from local groups, we believe we have a mandate to continue seeking to get their voice heard. Read more …
A controversial plan to build 300 homes on land to the South East of Woodstock were approved this week after a long campaign by Woodstock Action Group against the proposal.
After more than two hours of debate, councillors at the packed planning meeting at the council offices in Witney, voted 9 to 2 in favour of the proposal by Blenheim Estates and Pye Homes.
The final decision on the proposal to build 300 houses, plus retail shops, on the South East of the village of Woodstock will be made next week.
This is the last roll of the dice.
Woodstock Action Group (WAG) are calling for as many people as possible to attend this meeting to demonstrate the level of public opposition to valuable farmland being concreted over and the historic character of this 900-year-old town being lost forever.
The meeting will be held on Monday, 6 February at 2:00pm, at the West Oxfordshire District Council Offices in Witney.
Please go along and lend your support!