The full report can be found by following this link, but highlights are below:
PACE OF GROWTH CONTINUES
Oxfordshire’s relentless pace of growth continues as the County Council has been awarded £218m funding to enable thousands of new houses to be built, including affordable homes, and create new jobs. The funding was announced by the Chancellor in the Spring Statement and is part of the Housing Infrastructure Funding (HIF) programme from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government. A variety of growth measures had previously been identified in the local plans of South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils, and the HIF fund is linked with the Government’s ‘Housing and Growth Deal’ which has targeted 100,000 new homes in Oxfordshire by 2031. The infrastructure priorities are initially focused on the Didcot area, with more detail if you follow the link above. The County has also submitted a HIF bid for substantial improvements to the A40. The improvements would be conditional on delivering 4800 new homes, including 2200 affordable. The bid includes:
- extending the A40 dual carriageway from Witney to the proposed Eynsham park and ride, including better cycling facilities along the route;
- extending the A40 westbound bus lane from west of Duke’s Cut canal and railway bridges to the proposed Eynsham park and ride;
- improving the A40 capacity and connectivity at Duke’s Cut canal and railway bridges, along with an eastbound bus route over the A40 Duke’s Cut bridges on the approach to Wolvercote and a link joining the A40 cycle route to National Cycle Network route 5 along the Oxford Canal.
OCC is adopting compulsory purchase powers to enable it to progress a number of schemes.
CALL TO SCRAP EXPRESSWAY
A group of planners have published their concerns about both the so-called Oxford-Cambridge Expressway and the Oxfordshire 2050 Plan. They are calling for the proposed road to be scrapped and for the 2050 Plan to go back to the drawing board. They have issued two short reports, available here: https://www.oxfoe.co.uk/2019/06/04/scrap-expressway-say-oxford-planning-experts/
Their critique of the Oxfordshire 2050 Plan is “Balancing Oxfordshire’s Growth in a Climate Change Emergency”, and their proposals to scrap the Expressway is “Oxford to Cambridge Corridor – an Alternative Strategy”. Noel Newson, a former chief assistant engineer at Oxford City Council, explains: “The plans for Oxfordshire must take account of the climate crisis. It is folly to be building major new roads which will only add to carbon emissions. Instead, we should be planning to locate new housing where people don’t need to use a car for their every need. And of course, you don’t need HGVs to transport ideas between leading universities.”
ASSISTANCE FOR HIGH STREETS
The County and district councils are being urged to bid for a share of the Future High Streets Fund, the Government’s £675 million pot of money to help local areas modernise their high streets and town centres. The Government is also aiming to cut small retailers’ bills by a third and take 600,000 businesses out of paying business rates altogether, to help local businesses to provide more local jobs in their communities. This total package of £1.5 billion is intended to support high streets, and it builds on an injection of more than £10 billion of business rates support since 2016. However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has recently described business rates as a “20th Century tax” which needs a “21st Century replacement”. During the Conservative leadership campaign, he said the business rates system was unfairly skewed against ‘bricks and mortar’ businesses. And meanwhile, the Commons Treasury Committee has also been told that an overhaul of the business rates system is needed to address its disproportionate impact on retail and manufacturing. Addressing the Committee, West Midlands mayor Andy Street called for councils to have the power to grant rates relief to new and expanding businesses, and to create free-trade zones with reduced business rates in town centres to boost business.
That’s a suggestion that we could get behind. On the other hand, the ‘Future High Streets Fund’ might provide a shot in the arm for some areas of Oxfordshire, but do market towns like Thame or villages such as Chinnor need to ‘modernise’ their high streets