The Oxfordshire Growth Board today approved revised Terms of Reference to reflect the additional responsibilities it now carries to oversee delivery of the Oxfordshire Housing & Growth Deal.
The new arrangements are centred on expanding the level of public accountability and transparency of the Growth Board and linking this back to the county’s six elected councils.
While the Growth Board has always met in public and allowed public participation in its meetings, in recognition of the increased scale of its work programme these changes are designed to boost collaboration and give greater opportunities for wider involvement.
A new website www.oxfordshiregrowthboard.org has also been launched. It provides detailed information on the work of the Growth Board and updates on delivery of the Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal, signed by Government last month, and approved by all six Oxfordshire councils. The Deal will deliver £215m over a five year period to fund infrastructure and affordable housing across the county.
The Growth Board will make all decisions on the use of funding through the Deal. It will approve and monitor implementation of a detailed work programme for delivery of four core work strands – infrastructure delivery to unlock new housing, additional affordable housing development, creation of a Joint Statutory Spatial Plan (JSSP) and a programme of work delivered by Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP) to boost economic productivity across the county.
Advisory Sub Groups will be created which will oversee delivery of the work programmes and will involve a wider group of members from the constituent authorities.
The Growth Board will also develop investment strategies and secure future funding opportunities to take these forward, prioritise infrastructure schemes and coordinate liaison with Government agencies.
Given the increased Growth Board responsibilities for allocation of funding, new arrangements will be put in place to ensure effective scrutiny of Growth Board functions and decisions. A Scrutiny Panel for the Growth Board will be established to enable the member councils to undertake joint Scrutiny activity. It will be able to make recommendations on reports to the Growth Board and review any decisions it takes. The Panel will comprise three members from each council, to be determined by that authority and it will also meet in public. Detailed terms of reference for the Growth Board Scrutiny Panel will be developed following discussions with members of each constituent authority’s scrutiny body.
Councillor Bob Price, Chair of the Oxfordshire Growth Board, said: “By working collaboratively, we have already achieved more in Oxfordshire than in many other areas of the country in securing investment to support our vibrant economy, improve our overstretched infrastructure and address acute housing needs. As the responsibilities of the Growth Board increase it is only right that we should ensure the public accountability and transparency of our decision-making keeps pace. The steps we are taking will strengthen the line of sight and influence that local councillors and the public will have over the important work we are taking forward for Oxfordshire.”
Councillor Andrew Gant, Chair of Oxford City Council Scrutiny Panel, said: “I’m delighted the Growth Board is taking the important step of creating a full Scrutiny function. This will both increase the degree of public oversight and broaden the range of expertise that can be brought to bear to ensure the best possible decision-making on behalf of us all.”
Councillor Debby Hallett, Chairman of Vale of White Horse District Council Scrutiny Committee, said: “I have seen first-hand the problems of a scrutiny committee trying to effectively challenge decision making when there is no executive to hold to account. In the case of the Growth Board, the establishment of this panel will allow each of the member councils to have overview of the progress of the work around the JSSP. It helps ensure the Growth Board is working for all the people of Oxfordshire.”
The Growth Board also approved a draft Statement of Common Ground to assist in establishing areas of common strategic interest under the Housing and Growth Deal. In particular it underpins the creation of a JSSP that will look beyond councils’ current and emerging Local Plans to plan Oxfordshire’s development and housing needs out to 2050. This will be a dynamic document that is reviewed periodically to ensure it is aligned with the collective ambitions for Oxfordshire and the wider area.
A Statement of Community Involvement for the JSSP is also being developed with the participation of the Oxford Civic Society and other relevant stakeholder organisations. This will set out the methods and timescales for early, proportionate and meaningful engagement with communities, local organisations, businesses, infrastructure providers and statutory consultees.
The Oxfordshire Growth Board comprises the six Oxfordshire councils: Cherwell District Council, Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council, South Oxfordshire District Council, Vale of White Horse District Council and West Oxfordshire District Council. Non-voting members include OxLEP, the universities, Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, Homes England and the Environment Agency.
The Growth Board was set up to facilitate and enable joint working on economic development, strategic planning and growth across the county. To date this includes the Oxfordshire Housing & Growth Deal, City Deal, Local Growth Fund, Strategic Economic Plan and Oxfordshire Infrastructure Plan. It meets in public and it allows public participation in its meetings. The questions and statements to the Board from the public are published alongside the agendas for meetings. Details of how the public can participate in the meetings are available on the new Growth Board website.