The "Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal" has to be welcomed. It sets out the terms by which Oxfordshire, the city and the surrounding districts, are being offered £215 million by central government. Click here to download a copy.
The bulk of the offer - £150 m - is for "infrastructure to unlock key housing sites", with £60 m for affordable housing directly. The other £5 m is "to boost capacity to get a joint plan in place".
South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Council show some signs of wanting to continue whatever negotiations led up to this, and have council meetings this week - February 14th & 15th to vote on it. However, the deal states that
"it does not alter any of the statutory functions, duties and rights of HMG or Local Planning Authorities, and in particular the functions of the Secretary of State in relation to plan-making or decision-taking. Nor does it imply any favourable treatment for any specific scheme or plan"
64. Should any authority/ies choose to walk away from the deal process at any point before full agreement is reached, then the outline agreement will need to be reviewed. In this instance, it is likely that Government will choose to withdraw from the deal.
65. Unless and until the joint statutory spatial plan for Oxfordshire is produced, submitted and then adopted, all existing plans and national policy continue to provide the basis for decision-making in Oxfordshire.
66. This deal does not allocate land for housing. Site allocations will be agreed through local plans subject to the inspection and examination process.
so reasoned local assessment of actual development proposals will still happen. On that basis, the deal should be agreed. Oxfordshire is being given another chance to plan coherently.
Joint Statutory Spatial Plan
The core of the deal is a joint spatial plan, which should be drafted by October 2019, and adopted by March 2021. This will indicate where 100,000 new homes across Oxfordshire could go, and so where the infrastructure to support them should go. It makes perfect sense for the bulk of the money to be for infrastructure. Investment in roads and rail attracts subsequent investment in housing, and the choices made determine how sustainable new settlements will be. Investment in existing plans, such as rapid transport systems, will also attract investment into densifying existing developed areas, which will tend to all the more sustainable, encouraging people into less car dependent life styles. The Cambridge - Milton Keynes - Oxford corridor is seen as suitable for development, and more housing in it is to be expected. Whether this will be supported by a road "expressway" or the planned East West rail link is going to be a major part of the reasoning to follow the adoption of the deal
Strategic Infrastructue Tariff
This is interesting:
39. Oxfordshire should consider introducing a Strategic Infrastructure Tariff (SIT), which could help to capture additional land value uplift created by the development process. As a first step, the local authorities should undertake a viability assessment across the area to determine whether a SIT would be viable across Oxfordshire and to estimate its potential revenues.
40. In order to introduce a SIT, Oxfordshire would need to put in place the appropriate governance structures and mechanisms, at the appropriate time. Oxfordshire will now work with HMG to further explore the potential of this proposal, and the governance arrangements required to support it.
It's too soon to speculate about how this might work, but the principle that land value uplift should be captured to fund infrastructure is sound, and if done well, means that far more will be available for infrastructure investment. The planning and preparatory work will be more important in the long run than the headline figures.
"Barriers to increasing supply in local housing markets"
This also is interesting
47. Government is keen to understand the barriers that can hold back development and prevent new homes from being built. HMG wants to have strategic dialogue with local areas and partners about how we can work together to deliver additional homes faster. This includes better understanding of the barriers to increasing supply in local housing market areas.
We agree, and have already been calling for a study, based on a case by case analysis, of the flow of development opportunities through the so called land pipeline.
Getting the new housing we need: where’s the problem?
Let's have the evidence about where problems lie, and prioritise how we deal with them accordingly.
And the rest?
Actually, it's all interesting, since it should provide a structure for developments in Oxfordshire for decades ahead. Read it, and see what interesting you in particular!