Published: Friday, 15 March 2024

Oxford City Council’s Local Plan 2040 is “a real-world assessment” and “does not hide behind outdated calculations which would only deepen a serious housing crisis”, says Councillor Susan Brown.

Oxford is the least affordable place to live in the country. The average house price is more than 12 times average earnings, and more than 3,300 households are on the waiting list for council housing. 

The Local Plan 2040 will guide all planning decisions in Oxford for the next 16 years. It is underpinned by an evidence base which includes how many homes Oxford will need and the capacity to deliver these within city boundaries. 

The Council is preparing to send the plan to government inspectors for examination. Like the Local Plan 2036 it will replace, this takes a data-driven approach to assessing additional housing need since the adoption of the current plan in 2020. 

The evidence base 

Oxford’s Local Plan 2040 is underpinned by two main documents.  

A housing and economic land availability assessment (HELAA) takes a ‘no stone left unturned’ approach to identifying suitable housing sites within the city.  

A separate housing and employment needs assessment (HENA) jointly commissioned with Cherwell District Council assesses the demand for housing based on forecast economic growth.  

How many homes is there the capacity for in Oxford? 

The HELAA identifies space for 9,612 homes in Oxford between 2020 and 2040.  

During the plan’s development, work to maximise this number included:  

  • building at higher density – the Council assumes building at least twice the density of homes on housing sites compared to its neighbouring districts 

  • allowing homes to be built on all employment sites for the first time 

  • allocating no new sites for employment use 

  • protecting existing homes as far as possible and discouraging their loss for other uses like short lets 

  • continuing to limit student accommodation to the city centre, district centres and land next to existing campuses 

  • contacting all major landowners and agents in Oxford to identify opportunities for new homes 

  • using council housing company OX Place to build homes on brownfield and hard-to-develop sites unattractive to purely for-profit developers  

How many homes does Oxford need? 

The 9,612 additional homes delivered within the city will not be enough to meet the need for new homes.  

Oxford will need 26,440 new homes by 2040. This means 16,828 new homes outside the city’s administrative boundaries.  

Neighbouring district councils have already agreed to build 14,300 of these in their current local plans. This leaves 2,528 homes that will need to be built on top of those plans – 126 extra homes a year until 2040 across Oxfordshire.  

The Council believe most of these could be built on sites adjoining city boundaries which have already been allocated for new homes - for example, by increasing housing density on these sites to levels allowed within Oxford. 

Living in the real world 

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out a ‘standard method’ as a starting point for assessing how many homes are needed. The NPPF expects this to be adjusted for local circumstances – it is not a ceiling.  

The standard method is out of date. It relies on 2011 Census data and population projections from 2014. The 2021 Census showed these projections were wrong, as there has been significant population growth.  

If Oxford’s Local Plan 2040 relied on the standard method, the city would fall further behind in building much-needed homes. Housing would become even more unaffordable.  

More people working in Oxford would be forced to move further away to find somewhere affordable to live. This would increase commuting and make congestion worse.  

The HENA looks at the world as it is and how it is likely to be in 2040.  

It considers a range of scenarios. From these, the Council concludes the best way to objectively measure housing need is to forecast future employment trends and then calculate the number of homes needed to support jobs sustainably.  

Oxfordshire has a strong and diverse economy which is forecast to keep growing, even during a prolonged period of economic volatility. This is primarily due to the county’s world-class life science, education and technology sectors. 

There is a strong and growing demand for lab and R&D space. Oxfordshire is one of four regions that contribute a surplus to the UK's economy and it has been growing at 3.9% a year since 2006. 

Councils are not driving this economic activity but must respond to it. The Council’s economic strategy is to make Oxford a fairer city for everyone, which means looking after the thousands of supply chain and service industry jobs high-tech sectors will support. 

Duty to cooperate 

Local planning authorities have a ‘duty to cooperate’ under the Localism Act 2011 and the NPPF. This means they must work together with other local planning authorities and organisations on strategic planning issues with an impact outside their own immediate area.  

From 2014 until 2022, Oxfordshire’s councils worked together on a common planning approach which used economic trends to forecast and meet the need for 100,000 new homes by 2031. 

After the collapse of the proposed Oxfordshire Plan 2050 in August 2022, Oxford offered to work with neighbouring councils to develop the evidence base on housing need required for its emerging Local Plan 2040.  

The HENA was commissioned jointly with Cherwell District Council and the two councils decided to continue the same approach to calculating housing need that had previously been agreed countywide. 

South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse councils have signalled their preference for the outdated standard method to develop their local plans. This is despite their respective populations growing by 11% and nearly 15% between the 2011 and 2021 Census. 

This would mean far fewer homes being built than the HENA’s evidence-based approach. Oxford believes both councils have so far failed to assess the true extent of their own need, let alone additional unmet need from the city. 

Despite this difference of opinion, the Council has continued to work with all its neighbouring districts, with monthly meetings of planning managers, regular meetings between senior planning staff and discussions at chief executive level.  

This has included a series of meetings on the HENA and HELAA, with the development of a statement of common ground on areas where all councils see eye-to-eye on planning policy.  


“We’ve made a real-world assessment of the number of homes we need by 2040. Our Local Plan 2040 is based on robust and objective evidence.  

“It does not hide behind outdated calculations which would only deepen a serious housing crisis. It continues the approach all Oxfordshire councils took before 2022, which rejected the ‘standard method’ as inadequate to meet our county’s need for new homes. 

“South and Vale councils have made a lot of noise over our unmet need projections. But if we don’t build enough homes close to where we expect job growth, this will only make matters worse. 

“People will be forced into paying even more for somewhere to live, into overcrowded conditions or face the threat of homelessness. The cost of housing already means more than a quarter of Oxford’s children live in poverty. This has a devastating impact on their wellbeing and future life chances, and it is simply unacceptable. 

“Others will be forced out of Oxfordshire altogether, increasing commuting and making the roads even more congested than they are now. NIMBYism comes with a high price, and it’s rarely paid by the people saying “no” to new homes.” 

Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council

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