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Councils agree to develop a joint South and Vale Local Plan

The two district councils in South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse have agreed to develop a joint Local Plan for the area to reduce costs and help the councils meet their ambitious targets for making the two districts carbon neutral.

Local Plans are used to help determine planning applications and set out how and where new housing developments should take place, along with identifying the infrastructure needed to support them. They also set out policies on what kind of housing is appropriate and acceptable; what the local requirements for affordable housing are; and can even set requirements on the energy-efficiency levels of new developments.

These are all key themes and aspirations that are addressed in both councils’ recently adopted new Corporate Plans, which set out their visions for their districts. Both councils have also committed to do everything they can to address the climate and ecological emergency, and officers advised that the consensus on these issues makes this a rare opportunity to create a joint Local Plan

The proposals on creating a joint Local Plan were agreed at Vale Council meeting on 24 March and the South meeting on 25 March. The reports had previously been considered by both councils’ Scrutiny Committees and Cabinets.

The reports set out the advantages and disadvantages of a joint plan. The advantages include the planning issues in the two districts are quite similar, like the need for carbon reduction, affordable housing and new and improved infrastructure, and so a joint plan would be able to address these issues in a co-ordinated way.

A joint plan would also benefit the residents of Didcot where the boundary separating the two districts runs through the town. Under the current arrangement, on some roads, development on one side of the street is covered by South planning policies, while development on the other side must abide by Vale policies.

There will also be cost-savings by producing one plan for both districts because there would be one set of evidence studies, one local plan examination and one Planning Inspector not two.

The Councils also approved the timetable for the new Joint Local Plan, which involves key public consultation stages in summer 2022 and summer 2023, followed by independent examination, and then adoption in autumn 2024.

Cllr Anne-Marie Simpson, Cabinet Member for Planning at South Oxfordshire, said: “Both councils are strongly committed to tackling the climate emergency and a new joint Local Plan will give an opportunity to set better environmental standards for development. We’ll be stronger working together on this front. We will continue to strongly support neighbourhood planning, and a joint Local Plan brings the added benefit of being much more cost effective.”

Cllr Debby Hallett, Cabinet Member with responsibility for Planning Policy at Vale of White Horse District Council, said: “This has worked in other areas even when the councils involved had very different challenges to address. The challenges South Oxfordshire faces are similar to ours, particularly around the need for affordable housing and infrastructure, so it makes a lot of sense to work together to address these issues.”

Other council areas that have successfully adopted joint Local Plans include one at North Devon and Torridge, and another at Plymouth and South-West Devon.