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County offers to take over local plan from district council

Oxfordshire County Council has said it is willing to take over preparation of the local plan of one of its districts after the government threatened rare use of powers that allow this.

South Oxfordshire District Council submitted its local plan to the Planning Inspectorate in March 2019 just before the fall of the previous Conservative administration.

Its Liberal Democrat-led replacement sought in October to either withdraw or radically change the plan but was banned from doing so by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick.

Subsequent deadlock then saw Mr Jenrick suggest that he would invite Oxfordshire County Council to take over the plan even though, as a county, it has no planning function other than for waste and minerals.

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He has powers to do this if it appears to him that a district is failing to prepare a plan.

Oxfordshire agreed last week to take on the plan if a formal invitation were received, despite strong opposition from the district.

South Oxfordshire leader Sue Cooper said she regretted the county council’s decision, taken after she told it that accepting an invitation would mean “allowing the erosion of local democracy and disrespecting the democratic views of Oxfordshire residents” and setting a precedent that it was acceptable for one council to take on the statutory functions of another against its wishes.

Cllr Cooper said Oxfordshire was “condoning what appears to be an abuse of power by the Secretary of State”.

She added: “If we are prevented from withdrawing this plan and working on a new one ourselves, we must at least be able to uphold the principle of local democracy by proposing improvements.”

An Oxfordshire report said Mr Jenrick was considering whether it was appropriate to exercise powers under section 27A of, and paragraph 7B of Schedule A1 to, the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to invite it to prepare the South Oxfordshire Local Plan.

The Act provides he may do this if he thinks, “a lower-tier planning authority are failing or omitting to do anything it is necessary for them to do in connection with the preparation, revision or adoption of a development plan document”.

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