Leader’s report – 17 July 2019

Released on July 18, 2019

Leader’s report to the Vale Council Meeting, Wednesday 17 July 2019

It has been an incredibly busy but interesting couple of months. I thank all members and officers for their support while I have been settling into the role of leader and establishing new ways of working and learning more about the financial and other challenges our council is facing. 

The new cabinet met on 12 July. The meeting had a focus of community engagement and empowerment. We welcomed the two excellent neighbourhood plans for Ashbury and for Uffington and Baulking before a lengthy discussion about the governance arrangements for the Didcot Garden Town project.   

There has been huge frustration amongst Didcot residents and surrounding parish councils about their involvement in the project so far and cabinet felt the governance arrangements need more work to ensure that young people, vulnerable groups, local businesses and parish councils within the whole garden town boundary (known as the area of influence) were fully included. We referred the governance arrangements and project priorities back for more work and asked that it go through joint scrutiny before coming back to cabinet. 

I have represented the Vale at numerous meetings with other Oxfordshire Council Leaders, the Oxford-Cambridge Arc Leaders and the Growth Board – at which we discussed our approach to the Growth Board Review. 

Unsurprisingly, Local Plans have featured on many meeting agendas. I am in daily contact with Cllr Sue Cooper about the South Oxfordshire and Vale Local Plans and we have both had visits from County members and officers about how they might act if South’s Plan is withdrawn or delayed. 

There is clearly a shared aim to try and protect each council’s five-year Housing Land Supply and avoid speculative development, but much discussion about how we achieve that while at the same time respecting the wishes of our residents so clearly expressed at the ballot box on 2 May. It is reassuring that Cllr Cooper and her cabinet are very aware of the risk to Vale’s land supply if the County or the government decide not to sign the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) contract and is working pro-actively on ways to protect the HIF contract, which will benefit residents in South and Vale.      

As new member of the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership Board (OxLEP), I have had sight of the Oxfordshire Local Industrial Strategy (LIS) due to be signed off by government and published imminently.  I am very concerned the LIS has not been discussed by the Vale council, cabinet or scrutiny committee, yet it will inform the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 and other work we are involved in around the Oxford to Cambridge Arc region. Therefore, I did not vote to approve the LIS (nor did the board member from South Oxfordshire) but it was approved by majority vote. 

Some good news about transparency is that from September, the OxLEP Board meetings will be taking place in public. So, any member here will be able to attend the meetings to find out more about what OxLEP does and how its activities interact with ours. 

And finally, I would like to report a small change to the Leaders scheme of delegation. The Five Councils Partnership Corporate Services Joint Committee now allows for two members from the Vale. Therefore, Cllr Debby Hallett remains a member and I have appointed Cllr Judy Roberts as the second member. I am a substitute for this committee. 

Cllr Emily Smith, Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council