Residents launch legal challenge over South Oxfordshire Local Plan

A local group has issued a legal claim to try to overturn South Oxfordshire District Council’s Local Plan, which was adopted under pressure from Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick.

The minister has been named as an interested party by Bioabundance Community Interest Company, which seeks to have the plan quashed by the Planning Court under s113 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.

South Oxfordshire adopted its Local Plan in March 2019 just before the fall of a Conservative administration.

It was replaced by a coalition led by Liberal Democrats who sought to change the plan.

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Mr Jenrick threatened to use powers under section 27A of, and paragraph 7B of Schedule A1 to, the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, to invite Oxfordshire County Council to prepare the South Oxfordshire plan unless the Conservative one was accepted.

Law firm Leigh Day, acting for the claimants, said the plan allowed for 23,550 new homes by 2034 and that this was excessively high.

Councillors have complained that when they finally voted in December 2020 it was not a free vote since they had an effective choice of adopting the Conservatives’ Local Plan or having it forced on them by the Government.

Leigh Day said that unless the plan was accepted ministers had also threatened to withhold promised local infrastructure funding, including for the Didcot Science Bridge, Milton Interchange dual carriageway, a new river crossing at Culham and a bypass at Clifton Hampden.

Bioabundance said its claim was based on the adoption vote having unlawfully taken into consideration the threatened consequences of government intervention, that the calculation of housing numbers by the plan inspector was 775 per year and should have been 627 and that inadequate regard was paid to the effect of high housing numbers on climate change.

Leigh Day lawyer Tom Short said: “Our client is concerned about both the manner in which the Local Plan has been forced through under enormous pressure from the Secretary of State, and the detrimental environmental impacts it will lead to.

“It is important that decisions of local authorities that have significant ramifications for the environment for years to come be taken in a free and fair manner, not dictated by central government as appears to have happened here.”

South Oxfordshire has been contacted for comment.

When the plan was adopted in December, Anne-Marie Simpson, South Oxfordshire's cabinet member for planning, said: “We were faced with no real choice but to adopt the plan – there was a very real possibility of the government removing planning powers from South Oxfordshire if the plan was not adopted – and so councillors have done what they needed to do to keep the final say on planning matters in our district.”

Simpson said some improvements had been made to the original plan including a new carbon reduction policy which will require buildings to be at least 40% better than current building regulations.

Mark Smulian

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