Written evidence from Magdalen Development
Company and Kennet Properties Ltd (ARSS 126)|
This submission is made on behalf of the Magdalen
Development Company and Kennet Properties Ltd (a wholly owned
subsidiary of Thames Water), which have jointly promoted a sustainable
urban extension for some 4,000 new homes on the southern edge
of Oxford City referred to as the South Oxford Strategic
Development Area (SDA).
Located immediately adjacent to Oxford City, although
located in the administrative area of South Oxfordshire District,
the Strategic Development Area was identified as a specific policy
commitment in the now revoked South East Plan as one of seven
SDAs across the region. The SDA was identified as part of the
spatial strategy for the Oxfordshire sub-region in order to provide
a new supply of much needed housing in the area to address the
acute issue of affordability locally and to reduce the severe
congestion caused by in-commuting to Oxford due to the imbalance
of jobs and homes in the city.
Through their promotion of the urban extension, Magdalen
and Kennet Properties therefore have an important perspective
on the questions posed by the Inquiry.
1. Abolition of Regional House Building Targets
revocation of Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) has
had the effect of stalling the preparation of local development
plans that will inevitably now impact on the supply of land for
housing in the Country;
as an example, a current shortfall in housing delivery
in Oxfordshire will be compounded, maintaining the current affordability
gap, delaying economic recovery and prolonging unsustainable patterns
of commuting within the county.
2. Effectiveness of New Homes Bonus
there has been no evidence yet that the new homes
bonus will be "powerful" or that it will give
"direct and substantial benefit" as promised
in the Parliamentary Statement of 6 July 2010;
the revocation of RSS has removed the ability for
housing delivery to be co-ordinated so that it avoids the most
sensitive locations within a Housing Market Area, with individual
authorities now having to meet all of their housing needs within
their boundaries the bonus may lead to pressure for development
to be located in environmentally sensitive locations;
despite the letter from Grant Shapps dated 9 August
and the content of the 6 July statement, it is becoming apparent
that there is a trend towards local authorities reducing their
projected housing requirements, contrary to the evidence of need
for both open market and affordable housing;
this trend appears to demonstrate that the local
political imperative to reduce the scale of new housebuilding
due to local objection may override the intended effect of the
new homes bonus to incentivise local authorities to plan for more
taking account of due process authorities are unlikely
to be able to realise significant benefits from the bonus much
a flat rate bonus may not incentivise authorities
who's Council Tax charges are low; and
there is a risk that prosperous authorities will
opt to set low housing targets and forgo revenue from the bonus.
Mechanisms should be put in place to avoid this happening.
3. Arrangements for Appropriate Co-operation
there should be a means of addressing both the scale
and location of housebuilding at a more strategic level than just
the administrative area of the local planning authority;
this is particularly the case where main urban area's
are constrained by their administrative boundary and expansion
is therefore in the control of the adjoining authority; and
co-ordination provided at a sub-regional level would
better reflect economic and housing delivery market areas, allowing
for these important interlinking factors to be addressed coherently.
4. Duty to Co-operate Potential for Local
Enterprise Partnerships to Fulfil a Planning Function
a duty of co-operation is to be welcomed and preferably
should be a requirement of primary legislation;
Local Economic Partnerships (LEP's) have the potential
to assist with managing debate between authorities, and helping
individual authorities to perform their functions, but to be effective
business organisations will need to work alongside planning and
policy making bodies; and
It would be sensible for LEP's powers to extend to
policy setting and plan-making.
5. Utilisation of data and research collated
by Regional Local Authority Leaders' Boards
the evidence base that has informed the now abolished
RSS is comprehensive and in many cases has been tested thorough
it would be counter productive not to make available
to plan making bodies the Leaders' Boards data and research, particularly
that submitted as part of the RSS examinations in public; and
data and research would be best reviewed through
the ongoing Local Development Framework processes.
1. Implications of abolition of regional house
building targets for levels of housing development
The primary objective for any system of development
plans is for it to deliver more sustainable patterns of development.
To achieve this objective the development plan system has traditionally
involved two levels of plan-making; one strategic and one local.
In order to achieve the strategic function we have had in the
past both non-statutory regional planning guidance (RPG) and Structure
Plans, which were part of the statutory development plan. In that
context the need for strategic and local plan-making has long
been understood by the public who have engaged in that process.
Revocation of RSS on 6 July has removed from the
system the strategic level of plan-making without provision being
made for any replacement in this function. This has led to uncertainty
as to the appropriate process and objectives for the local level
of plan making. The void in the plan-making system has given rise
to incidences of Council's withdrawing their Core Strategies (South
Oxfordshire and Aylesbury Vale for example). Withdrawal of Core
Strategies is particularly concerning in planning authority areas
where there is no up to date development plan. This is because
with no Core Strategy or saved Local Plan policies, there is no
basis for the assessment of planning applications. Where there
are saved Local Plan policies these are often outdated, and may
not therefore address issues that have gained importance in recent
years, for example energy conservation and affordable housing.
Policy uncertainty has also led to unwillingness
on behalf of LPAs to make decisions to grant planning permission
for large sites for housing and other forms of development. This
will impact on housing delivery in the next five year period,
leading to fewer housing completions. On current trends it seems
that the cumulative shortfall in housing completions will worsen,
as indicated by research conducted by Savills
which shows that there could be a shortfall of more than one million
homes by 2016.
The policy uncertainty does not only impact on the
immediate supply of land for development, but also the longer
term projects that are necessary to maintain the 15-year supply
of housing land. There are decisions being made now by local planning
authorities to delete proposals for Strategic Development Areas,
even where these represent the most sustainable option for development
in that area. In the last two weeks we have seen local authorities
in Aylesbury and Milton Keynes overturn proposals for strategic
releases of land adjoining Milton Keynes.
Equally, the South Oxford Strategic Development Area,
which was identified as a location for 4,000 new homes as part
of a sustainable urban extension to Oxford City
will now not proceed. The implications of this in Oxford are the
inability for housing completions to match household formation/housing
need. Oxford City Council's Housing Provision Background Paper
illustrates the point confirming that:
"As in many other urban areas across the
region, projected housing need in Oxford exceeds current supply
and targets but in Oxford, housing land availability is the ultimate
The affect of the revocation of RSS in Oxfordshire
is the perpetuation of the "Country Towns" strategy,
which diverts housing requirements away from Oxford City towards
Banbury, Bicester, Witney and Didcot despite the fact that Oxford
is the principal focus of jobs in the County. It was demonstrated
through the RSS examination process that in recent decades this
has been the cause of a widening affordability gap at Oxford and
unsustainable patterns of development caused by the separation
of homes from where people work, which in turn, has led to unsustainably
long commuting journeys.
2. The likely effectiveness of the Government's
plan to incentivise local communities to accept new housing development,
and the nature of the incentives which will need to be put in
place to ensure an adequate long term supply of housing
The Coalition has given a commitment to "
local authorities with real incentives to build new homes."
via their Parliamentary Statement of 6 July. In the intervening
months, however, clarification of exactly what form the promised
"powerful incentives" that will "give
direct and substantial benefit" will take has not bee
Understandably, given uncertainty about the form
of the "new homes bonus", it has yet to be a factor
in decision making by local planning authorities. Furthermore,
it is uncertain what affect financial incentives might have on
the delivery of sustainable patterns of development. There are
local authority areas in which it is undesirable to increase the
number of homes to be built because of their environmental sensitivity.
The RSS process allowed for a balance to be struck across Housing
Market Areas (HMA), such that environmental constraints that limit
levels of housebuilding in one part of an HMA could be off-set
by increased levels of planned housebuilding elsewhere in the
HMA. The overall effect of this strategic level of plan-making
was therefore to achieve a balance across the HMA. However, it
does not appear that a process by which such balancing of environmental
and market factors can be achieved will be put in place.
Research carried out by Roger Tym and Partners indicates
that 51% of planning authorities intend to change their housing
Since July it has been increasingly apparent that the trend will
be for authorities to reduce their overall target rather than
seek to increase it (West Oxfordshire District Council and Aylesbury
Vale District for example). It seems therefore that the local
political imperative, in response to local objection, may lead
to a reduction in the scale of new house building and that the
new homes bonus may not therefore be effective in overriding this.
Even when the final form of the bonus is known, which
as we understand it will be in the spring of 2011, planning authorities
will need time to develop effective housing strategies and carry
these through the development plan process. Due to the need for
consultation and scrutiny by public examination this process is
likely to take several years. This would suggest that planning
authorities may not be able to realise a significant uplift in
the delivery of land for housing until much before 2013.
There will need to be careful consideration of how
the bonus is to be structured. A flat rate applied across the
whole country is unlikely to be effective as authorities that
do not levy significant levels of Council Tax will not benefit
to the same degree as authorities that levy higher levels of tax.
It will also be important to define who exactly will benefit from
the bonus, particularly in two tier authorities where it is likely
to have to be split in some way between County and District. Furthermore,
issues could arise where development takes place on the edge of
an urban area, but is actually located in an adjoining local authority
area. This would have been the case with the South Oxford SDA,
which was an urban extension of Oxford City that was wholly located
in South Oxfordshire District. Given that most of the services
provided to the urban extension would have been provided by Oxford
City, a proportion of the funds generated from the scheme via
the new homes bonus would logically go to the City Council. In
such circumstances, the proportion of the new homes bonus that
goes to each local authority will need to be the subject of an
agreement that is set at the start of the planning process.
Finally, there is the question of whether all planning
authorities will choose to pursue the bonus. In those authorities
where levels of prosperity are already high, in the South East
of England for example, there is the potential for authorities
that do not need to secure funding via the bonus, forgoing the
bonus and instead opting to build fewer houses. To avoid this
it would be prudent for mechanisms to be put in place that will
ensure delivery of the minimum number of residential units required
to meet forecast needs. To be robust, it would be best for these
minimum targets to be the subject of independent scrutiny including
Therefore, unless the homes bonus scheme is truly
a powerful incentive that provides direct and substantial benefits
across all authorities, and is coupled with mechanisms to prevent
"opting out", there is a reasonable prospect that it
will not be effective in securing increased housing delivery as
3. The arrangements which should be put in
place to ensure appropriate cooperation between local planning
authorities on matters formerly covered by regional spatial strategies
(eg waste, minerals, flooding, the natural environment, renewable
Planning is not a function that can be handled solely
at the local level. Planning issues are wide-ranging and often
have impacts that extend beyond individual administrative boundaries,
for example minerals and waste, flooding/drainage and renewable
energy. At the strategic level there needs to be a means for managing
debate between local authorities over the scale and general location
If planning authorities act without regard to strategic
and cross boundary issues it will not be possible for effective
strategic policies and development strategy's to be formulated
and implemented. An important consideration is therefore for the
creation of a mechanism that will secure co-operation between
authorities, via formal arrangements for strategic plan making.
An example of where co-operation between authorities
will be particularly important, as referred to above, is where
the expansion of an urban area into an adjoining planning authority's
administrative area represents the most sustainable solution.
The former South East Plan provided a framework for this, and
put in place appropriate mechanisms for co-operative working.
The abolition of the RSS has however left a void in the policy
framework that is yet to be filled.
Oxford's administrative boundary is tightly drawn
around the urban area, limiting development options. The constrained
nature of the City in policy, geographic and heritage terms means
that developable land within City limits is a finite resource.
As a consequence high levels of housing need, very poor levels
of affordability and constrained economic activity prevail.
Through the formulation of the South East Plan it
was determined that an opportunity existed to address the issues
faced by Oxford through an urban extension to the south of the
City, on land within the administrative boundary of South Oxfordshire
District. Policy CO4 of the South East Plan confirmed that exceptional
circumstances existed to justify a review of the Green Belt boundary
in this location in order to accommodate some 4,000 new homes
as part of a sustainable mixed use urban extension.
Paragraph 22.20 of the South East Plan directed that
the review of the Green Belt boundary to accommodate the SOSDA
and subsequent plan making should be carried out collaboratively
by South Oxfordshire District Council and Oxford City Council
to a timetable and in a form to be agreed with the Government
Office for the South East.
Whilst the South East Plan was the subject of legal
challenges and has subsequently been revoked, the need for additional
housing to meet the needs of Oxford City remains. At some point
in the future the debate about whether, and in which direction,
the City should expand will need to be re-opened. If at that point
it is again considered that an urban extension represents the
most sustainable solution for Oxford, the absence a mechanism
to plan for that and ensure appropriate co-operation between authorities
will become a barrier to delivery.
The efforts of individual planning authorities should
therefore be co-ordinated if the objective of sustainable planning
is to be achieved. In the absence of Regions, this either needs
to be co-ordinated at a County level or some other sub-regional
level that reflects economic and housing delivery market areas.
In the latter, it would seem that Local Enterprise Partnerships
(LEP) could have a role to play.
We comment further in relation to the role of LEP's
in our response to question 4 below.
4. The adequacy of proposals already put forward
by the Government, including a proposed duty to co-operate and
the suggestion that Local Enterprise Partnerships may fulfil a
A duty of cooperation is to be welcomed and to be
robust it would be wise for this to be a requirement of primary
legislation. If the duty is not limited to cross-boundary consultation,
but also extends to policy setting and plan making where this
is required to achieve the most sustainable solution, that would
LEP's have the potential to assist with this process.
In Oxfordshire the County Council and surrounding Oxfordshire
District's have submitted a bid to DCLG to form the "Oxfordshire
City Region Local Enterprise Partnership".
The strengths of Oxford's economy are in its world-class
entrepreneurial universities and hospitals; internationally known
research base; high quality environment and "brand";
cluster of biomedical and science-based industries, with a good
supply of research and development premises and local support
network; and highly skilled workforce. Growth in the health sector
in Oxford over recent years has been greater than in comparable
cities in the UK. Oxford's growth reflects high levels of Government
spending in general and its role as a centre for medical excellence
and concentration of medical research and specialist facilities.
Financial services and tourism have also grown. Manufacturing
also remains important, principally at the BMW (mini) plant at
As such, Oxford makes a significant contribution towards the prosperity
of the South East. To ensure continuing economic success, key
sectors of the economy must be nurtured and developed. This cannot
however happen where a shortage of housing and disproportionally
high house prices act as barriers to relocation of businesses
to the City or the recruitment and retention of staff by businesses
already located in Oxford.
The Oxfordshire City Region LEP may well have a role
to play in delivering the managed growth of Oxford City. However,
to achieve this, the Partnership would be best structured so that
businesses can work alongside policy making bodies such as County
and District Councils. This would ensure that LEP's will have
the vision and ability to formulate or implement strategic policies.
The impartial oversight of work carried out by the
LEP would be beneficial. In this context Government Offices could
continue to fulfil the functions of providing strategic guidance
5. How the data and research collated by the
now-abolished Regional Local Authority Leaders' Boards should
be made available to local authorities, and what arrangements
should be put in place to ensure effective updating of that research
and collection for further research on matters crossing local
Prior to the formulation of Regional Local Authority
Leaders' Boards, Regional Assembly's were responsible for the
formulation of Regional Strategies. In many cases evidence gathering
and development of evidence bases for RSS's took place over a
period of half a decade or more, with input from relevant planning
authorities, business leaders and other bodies.
The evidence base informing the now abolished RSS's
and inherited by the Regional Local Authority Leaders' Boards
is therefore comprehensive and in many cases has been tested through
independent examination. It is therefore a valuable and potentially
very robust resource.
Accordingly it would be counter productive not to
make available to plan making bodies the Leaders' Boards evidence.
To make the transfer of information manageable and ensure that
data is the most up to date, it would seem sensible for the information
submitted to support the RSS examinations in public to be released.
This should be reviewed, and updated as necessary, through the
Local Development Framework processes already underway in most
local authority areas.
151 Savills, residential Property Focus, May 2010. Back
Government Office for the South East, The South East Plan, May
2009, Policy's CO1, CO3, CO4. Back
Oxford City Council, Housing Provision Background Paper, 20 August
Roger Tym and Partners, Local Authority Response to Localism,
August 2010. Back
Oxford City Council, Oxford Core Strategy 2026, Combined Changes,
September 2010. Back