NNGO successes, challenges and the way ahead

generic-news-2At 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.

The Way Ahead:

The original focus for the coalition was the refresh of the Oxfordshire Strategic Economic Plan (SEP). Now that this process is largely complete we need to reconsider our priorities. Below is an outline of the way ahead, as agreed by coalition partners at the Review Meeting.

What are we going to do?

a) Use the opportunity of potential devolution / local authority re-structuring – press for a county-wide Structure Plan, open to full public scrutiny and ongoing public engagement. Seek clarification on how any proposed system will enhance democratic accountability.

b) Engage with Oxfordshire Infrastructure Strategy (due March 2017) – monitor and respond as necessary.

c) Engage with County Council elections (May 2017) – contact all candidates to seek their support for sustainable, democratically accountable planning in Oxfordshire and ask how they will help ensure this is achieved.

d) Respond to Housing White Paper (Feb 2017) – we will need to be particularly vocal against any attempts to increase housing targets in areas of high demand, such as Oxfordshire and push for the definition of ‘affordable housing’ to be linked back to ability to pay, rather than based on level of profit (ie 80% of market rate).

e) Act as a source of information exchange for our members, including advice on planning and campaign tactics.

f) Work to expose conflict of interests within the system.

g) Build alliances – it is clear that NNGO cannot achieve its goal alone, and working in partnership is core to our ethos. We will seek and welcome approaches and support from other organisations whose work is in line with our objectives.

We look forward to working with existing (and new!) coalition partners to achieve these campaign objectives over the coming months.