David Cameron and Eric Pickles have both promised to keep the Green Belt and have hinted that Labour will build over it. People living in my old County Council Division (Adderbury, Bloxham, Bodicote, Milcombe and Milton) may believe this is good news for them but they would be totally wrong. The reverse is almost certainly true. Preserving the Green Belt in Oxfordshire can only increase the pressure on the green fields surrounding villages in North Oxfordshire and elsewhere where there is no Green Belt protection.
Saturday’s Daily Telegraph reported this recent election announcement from the Conservative Party and managed to muddy the position in the process. The Telegraph says “The Prime Minister will say that the Tory manifesto will commit to ensuring greenfield land around towns and cities will not get any smaller.” Cameron is on the record as having made a similar claim in 2012 in the following statement: “Our vision is one where we give communities much more say, much more control. The fear people have in villages is the great big housing estate being plonked down from above.”
Absolutely right DC and it is happening in my old patch in spades and keeping the Oxford Green Belt safe will do absolutely nothing to protect Adderbury, Bloxham or Bodicote from more and more ghastly, urban housing estates on the green fields around these wonderful old Domesday villages.
Let’s be clear. The only Green Belt in Oxfordshire is a broad circle of land surrounding Oxford City and extending into the rural districts that surround the City. It is approximately five miles wide. I am afraid many residents of villages well outside the Oxford Green Belt believe that the green fields around their own village are Green Belt. They are not. All of those green fields around villages like Adderbury, Bloxham and Bodicote have very little protection and are currently vulnerable to development precisely because of the current planning policies which are designed to accelerate house building.
Oxfordshire has wonderful economic potential. It is a functional economic area. It has the City at its centre with vibrant market towns like Banbury, Bicester, Witney and Didcot. It has a good and improving transport network. At its heart are two universities with a global reach and capable of seeding exciting high-tech businesses. There are some hugely successful businesses like BMW, Siemens, Oxford Instruments, Travis Perkins and Stagecoach. House prices are threatening Oxfordshire’s economy with even relatively high earners unable to afford a home in or near Oxford. It is self-evident that it is time for a review of the Green Belt similar to that carried out very successfully in Cambridgeshire some time ago.
A release or swap of Green Belt land around Oxford City would stimulate the county’s economy and would take the pressure off many villages around our market towns, including Adderbury, Bloxham and Bodicote. So I am afraid preserving the Green Belt will do nothing to prevent the continuing disfigurement of many fine Oxfordshire villages. It is time for local politicians to recognise this fact and be brave enough to tell David Cameron and Eric Pickles that they have got this wrong, at least in Oxfordshire.