The District Council has launched a consultation on a draft of its Local Plan - the planning document that will map out the strategic sites for the Vale's housing allocation until 2029.
The Local Plan (part 1) is available from the District Council website.. The Vale of White Horse Local Plan 2029 will comprise Part 1: Strategic Sites and Policies, and Part 2 : Detailed Policies and Local Sites. Part 1 has been published and issued to libraries and councils on 28th February. The supporting documents was published on 28th March and the consultation closed six weeks later on 9th May 5pm. It is based on the old core strategy.
The Department for Communities and Local Government has set aside almost £1 billion over the Comprehensive Spending Review period (2011 to 2015) for the New Homes Bonus. This includes £1,373,953.80 for the Vale of the White Horse.
A Sound Basis for Housing Needs? [show detail]
The version of the local plan being consulted on is based on housing need evidence that supported the South East Plan. The housing requirement figures in the final local plan are likely to be different. We assume that this is partially because the South East Plan is being revoked, but also because the South East Plan was published in early 2009 and the recessionary environment since then means that the targets may be unrealistic. Nevertheless, the council say that it is a sound basis for this early draft of the Local Plan and will allow everybody to let the district council know if the plan is heading in the right direction.
How the new housing needs evidence will be gathered, what it will be based on and who will be involved in the assessment?
Also what consultation will be taking place with West Berkshire and Wiltshire Councils given the developments taking place in Swindon, Newbury and Reading, all of which are relevant areas for travel-to-work for the Science Vale?
Without a significant upturn in the market, new jobs are going to be limited - in fact 100 job losseswere announced at Culham on Monday 11 March and without jobs there is limited need for new Housing in this area. The Council have already giving planning permission to more than 400 houses (this means 950 more people, 700 more jobs required and 620 more cars)- in addition to those not yet sold in St Mary's but there are no school places available and no other facilities expanded for this growth.
Local Infrastructure? [show detail]
Paragraph 4.9 of the local plan states "The Local Plan will seek to protect and enhance the services and facilities provided by the Market Towns and Local Service Centres and ensure that any new facilities, homes and jobs are mostly focused on these settlements. This will help to ensure the delivery of sustainable development because:
But emergency medical services are based in Oxford (at least 30 mins away), jobs will be in the Science Vale (10 miles away) and schools are likely to be up to 2 miles away (on the north side of Grove).
A Housing Crisis? [show detail]
According to the first line of the Vale Plan Mission Statement published today "We are currently faced by a housing crisis in the Vale of White Horse."
The 'housing crisis' relates to the lack of delivery of housing again the housing target by which the Vale are judged by the planning inspectorate.
The evidence of housing need used in the Local Plan Part 1 is the South East Plan. This plan is soon to be abolished, but the evidence remains. We are required to produce our own evidence to replace the South East Plan in cooperation with other councils across the county. We do however have to use the same methodology
Transport [show detail]
The Local Plan includes 2 strategic Objectives relating to transport. They are:
Strategic Objective 8: Reduce the need to travel and promote sustainable modes of transport.
Strategic Objective 9: Ensure new development is accompanied by appropriate and timely infrastructure delivery to secure effective, and wherever possible, sustainable transport choices for new residents and businesses.
But the key outcomes (shown below) make no reference to the high level of car usage experienced in Wantange and Grove (as demonstrated in their own research) and the need to get to employment at Milton Park, Culham and Harwell. Don't they realise that many scientific staff do not work regular hours and a half-hourly bus service isn't going to help much?
Sustainability [show detail]
We accept that some sustainable development is needed but only with the associated infrastructure to retain and improve the facilities and character of our local town. Planning permission for the Airfield development has not yet been applied for so if the council is approving other developments but relying on infrastucture that is not yet planned that they are not meeting Government policies. Plans and approvals must be realistic and sustainable.
They should include strategic policies to deliver:
Site Specific Merits [show detail]
National Planning Policy Framework suggests that in the absence of an approved local plan any proposed development must be considered on its site specific merits and, in particular, whether it constitutes a sustainable form of development as defined in the NPPF. Given the lack of school place and jobs and the local number of people on the housing list with Wantage postcodes, how can any development without space for these facilities be considered sustainable?
Comments from a member of the Campaign Group on VoWHDC Local Plan March 2013 [show detail]
It is clear that preparation of what is called a Local Plan has entailed a considerable amount of thought, but what is being presented is a scheme imposed on the district by higher authority, without demonstrating need and with no evidence of support from local residents. Nor is there evidence of familiarity with the distinctive features of the area. The weighty document claims that great care is being taken to preserve the unique charm and character of the Vale, to minimise the need for car travel, etc, but what is proposed is exactly opposite. It effectively locates a disproportionate number of dwellings in an unsuitable and under-resourced area, where there is little demand and few employment opportunities, whilst no attempt is made to explain the choices or the reasons for discounting possible alternatives.
a) It proposes large-scale housing developments without demonstrating need.
b) In spite of the district’s history of flooding, it proposes large, high-density housing developments near the headwaters of the local watercourses, thus ensuring maximum damage in the event of any drainage inadequacies. However, there is no mention of the need for close attention to drainage.
c) Whilst claiming to minimise the need for car travel, it proposes to locate developments miles from centres of employment, thereby assuring further congestion on roads already overcrowded with commuter traffic.
d) No immediate infrastructure improvements are envisaged, although the locations selected are under-resourced, having been overlooked for many years.
e) There appears to be no coordination between the various bodies responsible for providing services (health, education, recreation) commensurate with the increase in local population. Example: Although primary schoolchildren are currently shuttled around the Wantage area because of a severe shortage of places, no new schools are proposed until several years after development starts.
f) It disregards potential for housing development on one of the few free-draining sites in the district, situated alongside one of the centres of expected employment growth.
g) Compounding matters, it proposes using much of the development Planning Gain to address traffic congestion created or aggravated by the location of the developments.
Without prompt funding, the population increases will overload essential services which are already stretched. It is widely felt that, because of the current economic restraint, few of the proposed road improvements will be completed during the lifetime of this Plan. Nor is it certain that the measures will overcome the anticipated difficulties.
It would be appropriate to critically re-examine this ‘Local Plan’ in order to make certain that the choices proposed are the most appropriate and that there are no others which more closely meet declared objectives and could either require fewer costly improvements or make more effective those improvements deemed essential. Many local residents regard this consultation exercise is mere window dressing and think their views will be completely disregarded as they have been in the past.
The proposals below make fewer demands on financial resources, and are offered for appraisal as potentially more viable alternatives, even if initially they are not the preferred choices.
1. Characteristics of the Area.
The district is largely rural in nature and situated north of the Berkshire Downs, with its southern edge defined mostly by the Ridgeway. As its name suggests, it is part of a broad, flat valley through which runs the Thames, acting as its main water outflow. It has a number of smaller watercourses, many of which flow in a north-easterly direction to join the river Ock, which itself flows into the Thames at Abingdon. Whilst the Downs are mostly chalk and self-draining into aquifers beneath, the lower slopes of the Ridgeway and the Vale itself comprise impervious clay soil, across which surface water flows towards the principle waterways. Communities between the Ridgeway and the Ock, historically known as the Island Villages, are prone to prompt flooding during very wet weather, such as occurred in July 2007. Early editions of Ordnance Survey maps show the whole region as marshy, and large-scale housing development in the area has long been regarded as unwise. In recent years homes built in the area have subsequently been found to be flood-prone, and the government is funding flood-defence schemes to reduce the risk. Such measures may be undermined if inadequate drainage provision is provided for the planned new homes, especially those located in areas that act as retention basins.
The district is crossed by two trunk roads (A34 and A420) close to its eastern and northern boundaries respectively. Despite being narrow and having a number of choke points, three other roads (A338, A415, A417) constitute the principle routes for commuter and commercial traffic within the district. The Vale’s main employment centres are located in the east of the district, at Abingdon, Milton Park and Harwell, and substantial expansion is predicted at the latter two. There is considerable commuter traffic eastwards by rail from Didcot Parkway station and this creates further east-west road traffic across the district. Further road commuting occurs towards major employment sites in Oxford, resulting in traffic congestion on the A415 junctions with the trunk roads and A338.
Due to the rural nature of the district, public transport services are generally poor, and cannot compete with private car use during peak traffic periods. Thus commuting will continue to be primarily by car. Many routes in the district, including minor roads, are currently at or near capacity during peak periods. The Local Plan envisages alterations near main road junctions, in an attempt to accommodate the traffic increases anticipated after development. However, between junctions most roads are narrow, and peak period traffic flow is often limited by slow-moving buses, cyclists or agricultural vehicles. Without an extensive road-widening programme, the road network between junctions could not accommodate increased traffic. Poorly-maintained minor roads, which will not be improved, will continue to be extensively used during peak times, and congestion will continue to occur at the junctions of these roads with major traffic routes. Whilst a Wantage bypass may help to relieve congestion in the town centre, the proposed half bypass will ensure traffic chaos at the inadequate junctions and close to schools.
3. Rail Traffic.
Although the main London-West Country rail line passes through it, the district has no railway station on it, and the principle local access to rail services is at Didcot Parkway. Hence large numbers of rail commuters travel to and from Didcot along local roads, some from as far away as Faringdon. A railway station between Swindon and Didcot could significantly reduce congestion on roads to the east and at the Milton interchange.
The impermeable nature of the soil in the district has been mentioned above, and heavy rainfall causes large volumes of surface water to flow towards the Ock, threatening homes in villages and in Abingdon. At such times, flooding of sections on the A417 and A338, as well as on minor roads, creates further traffic congestion. In addition to areas defined as flood plains, other parts of the Vale, such as Grove airfield, act as temporary retention basins, holding back large volumes of surface water that would otherwise flow via neighbouring villages into the Ock. In contemplating locations for development, it should be recognised that nearby areas may become more flood-prone, especially if development encroaches on such retention basins.
5. Development Sites.
The Plan proposes major housing development in the Wantage/Grove, and Faringdon areas (the Didcot scheme lies mainly in the neighbouring district), while new employment opportunities are proposed at Milton and Harwell. An inevitable result will be a substantial increase in east-west traffic flow, with more congestion. Providing adequate drainage to prevent increased flood threat to neighbouring communities will be expensive and will absorb funds that could otherwise be used to provide schools and other infrastructure.
Thus, the current housing proposals will create problems that are expensive to overcome, with no guarantee that they would eliminate the expected difficulties. There are alternatives which would cause less increase in road traffic, introduce less flood risk, and for which infrastructure would be less costly. They may therefore offer some advantages over the existing proposals. Appropriately-located measures could actually lower peak traffic densities and reduce the requirement for expensive road improvements.
PROPOSAL # 1
The authorised figure for total rainfall corresponding to the so-called 1% event should be obtained and used to ensure that all local housing developments comply with Planning Regulations and do not increase the likelihood of flooding.
To ensure that any development includes adequate drainage provision, details of the Planning Regulation requirements should be made public. Drainage requirements are defined in terms of the total rainfall that occurs during the so-called 1% event. The figure for this total rainfall is calculated by the government- authorised Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and without it compliance with the drainage aspects of the Planning Regulations cannot be demonstrated. Assurances by developers tend to specify expected surface water run-off rates, and make no reference to total rainfall. But run-off rates are notoriously difficult to measure, especially during severe weather conditions, and in themselves do not indicate compliance with Planning Regulations. The regulations require quoted run-off rates to be maintained during rainfall conditions up to the severity of the 1% rainfall event. Insufficient storage capacity would lead to overflowing and excessive run-off rates. The authorised rainfall figures are essential in order to evaluate the storage volume required. Publication of these rainfall figures would allow both developers and the public to calculate the storage requirements, and also provide assurance that Council is interested in reducing the flood risk in the district, and trying to ensure the effectiveness of future flood-alleviation schemes.
PROPOSAL # 2
A substantially greater number of new homes should be built on the former housing areas at Harwell Campus.
This would offer numerous advantages: -
a) It would reduce the need for commuting, particularly along the A417, and thus ease congestion at peak hours. Travel from there to nearby towns would take place mostly during off-peak periods.
b) The area is free-draining and would not require extensive drainage provision. Many 1940’s-vintage UKAEA buildings there have been demolished, improving site drainage.
c) Further residential development would exploit the existing recreational facilities and small shopping area at the site. It would also compliment the 275 homes being built close by.
d) There is adequate space to replace the recently-demolished nursery/infant school.
e) It would not significantly alter the encroachment on the AONB afforded by the research campus.
f) Good public transport services to nearby towns would become commercially viable, and would also serve communities en route.
g) Housing close to employment would provide an inducement for recruitment.
h) The land is the property of a government-owned company, and may not be costly.
The current Local Plan appears to encourage the development of a research campus comprising widely-spaced laboratories staffed by people who commute along congested roads from high-density (up to 55 homes/ha) housing developments located miles away. Recreational facilities at the campus would be vastly superior to those in residential communities. This seems at odds with the lofty ideals quoted in the Plan regarding quality of life and sustainability.
PROPOSAL # 3
An exit from the southbound A34 should be constructed at Chilton.
This would lessen the amount of Harwell-bound traffic from the north crossing three arms of the Milton interchange. In so doing, it would reduce the delays caused to traffic entering Milton Interchange from other directions. It would also ease traffic flow across the Rowstock roundabout. Traffic northbound onto the A34 could continue to use the Milton interchange without the need to cross traffic from other directions.
PROPOSAL # 4
Construct a new railway station at Grove.
Although this would reduce road commuter traffic on the A417 and A4130, duplication of the railway track would be essential at the approaches to the station in order to avoid disrupting express rail services. However, construction of the proposed Thames Water reservoir is uncertain, and it is therefore not clear that TW will meet the cost of this track duplication. The result may be a significantly more costly station.
For a Grove railway station to be economically viable it would have attract some current users of Didcot Parkway. An infrequent shuttle service to Swindon, Didcot and Oxford is unlikely to suffice since commuters would almost certainly continue driving to Didcot to access the better services available from there. On the other hand, if a replacement station did attract users, many commuters would be drawn from west of the A34, away from the major road traffic bottlenecks. But if the new station were built on the site of the former station, it would generate more congestion on the A338. For these reasons, an alternative location for the station should be considered, which could reduce the need for costly track alterations and to exploit the existing track duplication between the A338 at Grove and the A417 at West Challow. This duplicated section will soon become available as it will no longer be needed for parking Didcot Power Station’s coal trains. A new railway station located close to the former Grove Airfield and served by the planned Northern Relief Road would make use of the existing ~1km of duplicated track in each direction, and avoid creating additional congestion on the A338. With fewer track improvements needed, it might allow some express trains to stop there instead of at Didcot, and thus allow a wider range of services to be available, making it more attractive to users while reducing traffic density at the bottlenecks further east.
There is no evidence that the district needs thousands of new homes. The area is lacking in infrastructure, having been under-resourced for many years, and the present proposals will make the situation substantially worse, contrary to the declared aims of the plan. Housing developments in the Wantage/Grove and Faringdon areas are likely to require expensive drainage provision in order to avoid increasing flood risk to neighbouring communities. The needs of the district and Science Vale could be met more economically and sustainably by sensible development closer to the employment centres. Council declares, and residents believe the area is attractive and pleasant to live and work in. A more careful approach to planning is required in order for it to remain so.
Comments from a member of the Campaign Group on "to manage development pressure while protecting the heritage, environment and everything that is of value" [show detail]
I have chosen to write to you as your Comment Form did not allow me to put forward my views in a succinct and logical fashion. I recently attended your exhibition at Harwell Church Hall (Thursday 4th April). As well as satisfying a statutory requirement, I noted that one of the main objectives of the proposed plan is to manage development pressure while protecting the heritage, environment and everything that is of value in the District. I would like to take issue with this statement and my argument will relate to that part of the District termed South East Vale.
I note that the main employment opportunities will focus on the Enterprise Zone at Milton Park and at Harwell and that an objective is to locate housing and employment in a way that reduces the need to travel by car. Locating 5,500 new homes at Wantage and Grove does not concur with this objective. Milton Park and Harwell are both high profile employment generators and the A417 in its present state is not capable of handling current volumes of traffic at peak times. There are no plans put forward for improvements to the A 417 or the A338 which carries the Oxford traffic. Employment opportunities outside the area that generate considerable local traffic flows to and from Didcot Railway station have not been considered. There are no policies put forward to demonstrate how, and I quote, ‘the provision of high quality accessible services’ are going to be delivered considering the quite considerable demand that will be generated should the proposed housing provision go forward.
The North Wessex Downs Management Plan (NWDMP) is a strategic document with an integrated and objective led approach to guide future decisions affecting the Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB). I would like to draw your attention to page 24 of the NWDMP which states that:
‘Consideration should also be given to the impact of development on the boundary of the North Wessex Downs on views from the higher ground’ (the scarp slope above Wantage)’of the Dons plain and scarp.’
Allowing the development at Crab Hill which backs up to the A417, the AONB boundary, to go forward is contrary to this policy in that the development would have a serious negative impact on the enjoyment and tranquillity of the AONB, something that the proposed local plan seeks to maintain.
I do not feel that the proposed Local Plan in its current format meets the tests of soundness.
• Positively prepared – the development and infrastructure requirements it would generate have not been objectively assessed.
• Justified – the exhibition failed to highlight reasonable alternatives
• Effective – the proposals are not deliverable as without a solution to the traffic problems on the A417 and A338 that would arise from the development proposals, this is not an effective Local Plan.
• Consistent with National Policy – the provisions of the statutory NWDMP have been ignored.
To end on a more positive note the Local Plan offers a glorious opportunity to locate all the proposed development in Grove, thereby scrapping the need for the Crab Hill allocation, and designating Grove a proper town with say an arts centre, multiplex cinema, neighbourhood shopping, community and medical facilities. A place with a proper identity that residents would be proud to call their own! Perhaps even a new rail service to Milton Park (it has a rail head), and Oxford via Didcot Parkway.
I look forward to following the development of the Local Plan to its submission.
Vale District Council Decision on use of New Homes Bonus [show detail]
Decisions made on 08/02/2013 - at a Cabinet Meeting
Cabinet considered the head of finance’s report that recommended an interim policy on how to use the new homes bonus, the government’s scheme to encourage councils to increase housing growth.
Cabinet recognised that while the council would receive new homes bonus over the coming years, the council did not know how its core funding from government would change. Therefore, Cabinet considered it prudent not to use all the new homes bonus expected over the next six years, only to find that in later years the council might have to re-prioritise some of those funds to support essential services. Cabinet decided to adopt a cautious approach, making some funds available for wider use but setting the bar high for accessing it, and allocating funds to support specified areas of expenditure in a priority order. Cabinet believed that supporting the revenue budget was the highest priority, followed by supporting the capital programme, followed by supporting community schemes via area committee grants. The Cabinet member for finance reported on the percentages to be used to allocate the useable funds across area committees; for 2013/14, these would be Abingdon 19.3 per cent, North East 9.5 per cent, South East 31.4 per cent, and West 39.8 per cent.
RESOLVED: to set an interim new homes bonus policy as follows:
(a) ring fence all funding the council receives through the new homes bonus (excluding affordable housing premium) to support the following priorities (in descending order of priority):
(i) achieving a balanced budget (supporting the revenue account)
(ii) achieving a balanced budget (supporting the capital programme)
(iii) provision of new homes bonus grant to support community schemes to be allocated to areas committees for distribution
(b) ring fence the affordable housing premium to support the delivery of further affordable housing schemes.
On 14 February 2013, the Scrutiny Committee considered the head of finance’s report proposing the new homes bonus interim policy that Cabinet approved on 8 February. At the committee meeting, the Cabinet member for finance agreed to consider any amendments the committee suggested.
The committee asked the Cabinet member to review the new homes bonus policy to clarify how it will distribute the bonus between the area committees. Cabinet is asked to note that the Cabinet member for finance is due to make an individual cabinet member decision on this in due course.
Local Plan delayed - Blame the Government!
"New government rules delay local plan" says the District Council.
The government announced a new requirement for the Local Enterprise Partnership to produce an economic strategy for Oxfordshire. The Council have had to delay the SHMA by several months to incorporate some of the work for the economic strategy to ensure these two important documents are fully aligned.
This disruption to our local plan timetable means that it will no longer be possible to produce the next draft of the local plan this year. It will instead be released in 2014. This gives developers more time to submit applications without a plan in place.
A while ago Matthew Barber gave an interview in which he answered some questions raised as part of the Plan consultation. we now have a copy of the transcript of that interview.
The Vale will be submitting the final version of the local plan in 2014. They say that there will be another consultation before then, based on the latest local housing need evidence available at the time.
To stay up to date with the progress of the Local Plan and the consultation, people can register to receive regular updates via the Vale Community - an email mailing list run by the Vale. Send an email with the subject header of SUBSCRIBE to firstname.lastname@example.org to register with the council.
To have your say or register for updates, see below.