Oxford set to lose out on hundreds of new council houses, after Government-appointed inspectors scrap Oxford City Council planning policy

Published: Wednesday, 2nd October 2019

Oxford could lose out on hundreds of new council houses, after Government-appointed inspectors scrap a key Oxford City Council planning policy.

Since 2013 the City Council has required all housing developments of four or more homes to contribute 15% from the sale price – after the houses had been sold – to the public purse. The money has been ring-fenced to build new council housing in Oxford.

With few large-scale developments coming forward in Oxford, the contributions from smaller sites have provided much needed support for new council housing in the city.

This approach has already secured contributions from house builders of up to £1.4 million for Oxford – enough to fund around 10 new council homes in the city. Over the next 17 years the policy was expected to generate between £26m and £42m of funding from these smaller developments, enough funding to support the building of hundreds of new council houses in Oxford.

The City Council had intended to carry the policy into the Local Plan 2036, a key document that sets out Oxford’s planning policies and where new houses and businesses will be built over the next 17 years.

However, changed rules in the new version of Government’s NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) mean that only housing developments of 10 or more homes should include affordable housing – or have to make a financial contribution to the public purse to build new affordable housing in the area.

Oxford City Council, in its Local Plan submission to the Government, argued that Oxford should be exempt from the new national policy because of the city’s acute shortage of affordable housing.

The City Council made the case that, because there are so few large sites left within the city’s boundary, Oxford is increasingly reliant on redevelopments on smaller sites. Research contained with the City Council’s Local Plan indicates that sites of fewer than 10 homes could make up as many as 2,000 of the homes that Oxford needs to build by 2036.

However, two Government-appointed planning inspectors decided in September that Oxford’s needs are not compelling enough for the City Council to deviate from the national policy.

The Local Plan Inspectors said: “The proportion of additional affordable homes that would arise from this policy would amount to an exceedingly small proportion of the total number of affordable homes delivered to meet Oxford’s needs within the city and neighbouring districts.”

The City Council also provided evidence that housing developers could afford to make the financial contribution, and neither planning inspector argued against this point. Oxford is consistently identified as the least affordable city in the UK.

The city has an acute affordable housing need. There are currently about 3,000 families on the City Council’s housing register, and Oxford needs hundreds of new council houses a year to meet current and future demand for genuinely affordable housing.

The Leader of the City Council, Councillor Susan Brown, will be writing to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick MP, to call for the Government’s NPPF to be amended to enable the City Council to reintroduce its developer contribution policy.

“This is utterly frustrating and hugely disappointing. This new Government policy takes no account of local circumstances faced by a constrained City like ourselves.

“This decision means millions of pounds have been taken away from the 3,000 families on Oxford’s council housing waiting list. And more importantly, the day when those families can get a home of their own has pushed even further into the future.

“This policy could have delivered hundreds of new council homes during the lifetime of the Local Plan. That may be a small proportion of the overall need for affordable housing, but it is still hundreds of families who will have to wait longer than they otherwise would have done for a home of their own.

“We urge the Government to reverse their policy, and allow cities like Oxford which rely on smaller sites to help meet their housing needs to require developers to provide affordable housing on them.

“The City Council will continue to work hard to bring forward the new council housing on sites like Barton Park that the city so desperately needs.”

Councillor Alex Hollingsworth, Cabinet Member for Planning

More information about the Local Plan examination.