Statement on housing numbers

Published: Friday, 17th March 2023

A statement from Cllr Alex Hollingsworth, cabinet member for planning and housing delivery.

The statement is in response to a press release from South and Vale councils.

The statement from South and Vale is disappointing, but not unexpected. It shows the same fundamental misunderstandings of the planning system and the nature of Oxfordshire’s economy that were evident in discussions about the Oxfordshire 2050 Plan.

Oxford and Oxfordshire have acute housing pressures that have been well documented over decades. There are many people in housing need, housing costs whether to buy or rent are at unprecedented levels and the current cost of living crisis is badly affecting many of our community. The government has made it clear that Oxfordshire local authorities need to consider and identify the level of housing need.

First, the so-called ‘standard method’ for calculating housing need sets a minimum starting point. It is not a maximum, and nor should it be when there is overwhelming evidence that to pursue that approach would be harmful.

The ‘standard method’ uses guesses that date from 2014 as to what Oxfordshire’s population will be. The actual census from 2021 shows that those guesses seriously underestimated how many people now live in the county. Using the 2014 projections, while knowing that they are wrong, would be dishonest.

Similarly Oxfordshire’s economy is thriving, as a result of decisions made over many decades. The city council believes that the provision of housing needs to keep pace with Oxfordshire’s economic growth, because not doing so will make affordability even worse. The success of Oxfordshire’s economy is driven at least as much by growth in areas like Science Vale, strongly supported by South and Vale councils, as it is by developments in Oxford itself. The county’s economy is interlinked, and needs to be considered as a whole.

Second, the claim that Oxford somehow ‘underestimates’ its capacity for new housing is false, and has been proved to be false repeatedly. The city council has allocated many sites for development in the city, some of which are highly controversial. Our new Local Plan is proposing that housing can built on every single employment site in the city, if the owners of those sites want to. Even so the need for new housing will exceed the capacity of the city.

Thirdly, the claim that there has been no engagement by the city council with South and Vale is false. Ahead of the consultation our officers approached South and Vale’s officers to ask they would like a more detailed briefing and conversation on the work at the time, during the consultation period, or when they had appointed their own consultant. We were told that during the consultation would be preferable, so only last week our officers approached them again to set that meeting up. Our planning officers will continue to engage with colleagues right across the county to ensure that we plan proactively for the right jobs and homes in the right places.

Finally, the city council has jointly commissioned our housing and economic needs assessment with Cherwell District Council on the housing need figures that we are currently consulting on. There is no obligation whatsoever for any other council to use this approach. But we are clear that to deliberately ignore the evidence from the 2021 census that the standard method is based on figures that are wrong, and to deliberately aim to make housing in Oxfordshire less affordable for ordinary people by refusing to match the economic growth in the county that is already happening, is the wrong approach.