Cherwell – solving the housing shortage or building tomorrow’s slums?

cherwell-logoCherwell District Council is not alone in having a serious problem in planning but residents of Cherwell will draw no comfort from knowing others are suffering the same destruction of their cultural and architectural heritage, particularly in the rural areas.

Cherwell has failed to produce a valid local plan and, as a result, developers are now enjoying open season, able to secure planning permission on appeal if not from the council on almost every application they submit.

For villages like Adderbury, Bloxham and Bodicote, the result is the bolting on of unsightlyMilton Road north and very urban housing estates around the edges of these fine old Domesday villages.  If you want evidence, drive from Adderbury to Bloxham along the Milton Road and see what the planners have done in Bloxham on either side of the Milton Road.  Alternatively, drive along the Oxford Road through Bodicote towards Banbury and see the horrible urbanisation of this fine village with 1,000 houses currently planned on the east side of the Oxford Road and within Bodicote Parish and, it now seems, even more to come.

Residents had drawn a small crumb of comfort when Cherwell submitted its local plan for inspection  earlier this year.  However, the government-appointed inspector almost immediately sent it back to Cherwell with an instruction to plan for an additional 6,000 homes.  This blog comments on Cherwell’s response to that instruction which is now out for consultation.

The response contains almost exclusively bad news for those who live in villages.

The Bodicote/Bankside site – already planned to see 1,000 houses – is to see “more intensive use of the site”.  In plain English, this means even smaller little tick-tack boxes, closer together, with smaller individual garden space, with even less storage space and deliberately discouraging the motor car with restrictive parking policies when every sane person knows the car is the only way for most people to manage their life styles.

Land south of Salt Way has been approved for more housing.  This breaches what has long been seen as a natural boundary between Banbury and its rural hinterland.   It is difficult to see what will prevent the joining up of Banbury with Bloxham and Bodicote in the next decade if this plan is accepted.

The rural areas are to have another 500 housing units imposed on them.  Of course, this will be restricted to the larger and “more sustainable” villages.  This places villages like Adderbury, Bloxham and Bodicote directly in the firing line.

If there is a single crumb of comfort, it ought to be in the undertaking to review the plan in terms of “design & connectivity” in the rural areas.  I am not holding my breath but I hope this means Cherwell have realised how angry villagers are at seeing urban-style housing estates planted on the edges of their villages.  The estates might be found in Banbury, Barnstaple, Bradford, Biggleswade, Birmingham, Bolton or Brighton and bear no relation to the village in which they have now been planted and that has evolved gently and thoughtfully since the Domesday Book.

I suppose the only question on which to end is “who has let down the people of North Oxfordshire’s villages?”  Partly, it has to be Cherwell who have failed to produce a valid Local Plan. Partly, it has to be the coalition who have failed to recognise either the pressure on councils in the South East or the failure of trendy environmental policies (encouraging walking and cycling and discouraging use of the motor car) to recognise the fundamental difference between urban and rural parts of the country. Above all, I think it is the emasculation of local government over the last fifty years that has destroyed public confidence and the ability of local government to deliver economic prosperity through planned and sustainable growth.

It is fascinating to hear two political groups promising a return of power to  local government.  They are UKIP and the Labour party.  Both are a joke.

UKIP has no chance of becoming a government; only of preventing Conservatives from forming a government.  The sooner we forget them, the better.

Labour might seem to be a more formidable opponent with their recent letter from Hilary Benn to all Council Leaders.  Pause and take breath.  When has the Treasury of any government ever allowed a reduction in central government’s power?  Add to this the socialist belief in centralising bureaucracy and you will start to understand the left’s unshakeable belief that they can run the economy better than the real economy.


About Keith R Mitchell CBE

Qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1967. Pursued a successful career in financial training and publishing until selling his interests in 1990. Elected a County Councillor for the Bloxham Division in 1989. Leader of Oxfordshire County Council 5 November 2001 to 15 May 2012. Chairman of the South East England Regional Planning Committee July 2002 to July 2005. Chairman of the South East England Regional Assembly July 2005 to July 2008. In HM the Queen’s 2007 Birthday Honours, appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in recognition of services to local government.
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