A plan to build more than 20,000 homes in Oxfordshire is facing a legal challenge from residents who say it is incompatible with the government’s legally binding sustainability commitments.
Campaigners have issued a legal claim against South Oxfordshire District Council’s decision to go ahead with the plan – which could see 24,000 new homes built in the area by 2035.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick, a champion of the plan, is accused of “massive intervention” to push the scheme through after he ordered South Oxfordshire district council to go ahead with the development in March last year.
Sue Roberts, director of Bioabundance, which is taking the legal case, said: “This is the first time a local plan has ever been challenged because of our climate and ecological crisis.
“This pioneering action by Bioabundance is our last chance to put our environment before housebuilder profit in South Oxfordshire.”
Campaigners are challenging the Oxfordshire plan on the grounds that Jenrick’s intervention was inappropriate and that the proposed number of houses breaches the government’s legally binding commitment to hit net-zero by 2050.
Leigh Day solicitor Tom Short, who is representing Bioabundance, said the claimants were concerned about both the manner in which the plan has been submitted and the “detrimental” environmental impacts it could lead to.
Short added: “It is important that decisions of local authorities that have significant ramifications for the environment for years to come be taken in a free and fair manner, not dictated by central government as appears to have happened here.”
Many of the new houses would be built on the outskirts of Oxford, and there are also plans to develop an old airfield into a ‘new town’.
Ian Ashley, director of Bioabundance, said: “The plan would destroy the countryside and a large part of the green belt around Oxford.”
Background to the proposals
The proposals were originally developed by a Conservative-led council that was replaced in May 2019 by a Lib Dem-Green coalition that had campaigned to end “over-development”.
However, over a period of 21 months, the applicants say the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) put “severe pressure” on South Oxfordshire district council and threatened to withhold promised infrastructure funding for several other projects unless the local plan was adopted.
Final approval was given at the South Oxfordshire district council in December last year.
Sue Roberts, who is also a local councillor, said there was no demand for new housing in the area, stating that the new developments would provide second homes, or international investment opportunities for the already wealthy, as well as worsening the climate crisis.
However, Caroline Newton, a Conservative member on South Oxfordshire district council said the new homes were needed.
Newton said: “There is a directly assessed need for houses in this area…We have got incredibly expensive house prices, first-time buyers are getting older and older, and young families are being forced out of the area.”
The MHCLG was approached for comment. It said it could not comment on ongoing legal proceedings.
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