Council undermines opposition to its own planning application

Transport Action Network (TAN) is shocked by the way that a very strong refusal of Oxfordshire County Council’s £300 million HIF1 road scheme [1] in July [2] has been undermined by an extraordinary meeting of the council’s planning committee on 27 September [3]. It was informed by an officer’s report [4] which was both misleading and failed to properly engage with many serious issues. It also proposed delegating further decisions to officers who had supported the scheme in the first place.

The extraordinary meeting and questionable call-in [5] were made possible by the council’s refusal to issue a Decision Notice, despite the decisive and unequivocal vote by the original planning committee to reject the HIF1 scheme.

TAN is particularly concerned that Oxfordshire’s Local Transport and Connectivity Plan (LTCP) [6], which was only adopted last year, is already being undermined by officers. At the meeting it was stated that it would be down to the housing and science park developers to show they had met the policy for ‘decide and provide’ but that this need not apply to the road [7]. No consideration was given to the fact that the road should be decided alongside the new developments that will follow to properly assess the cumulative impact of the proposals.

It was also admitted by officers that the road modelling had been done before the new policy was adopted. They claimed that by aiming for a 20% reduction in car traffic, this road development met the LTCP policy. Yet at no point did officers address the fact that this would significantly undermine the targets in the LTCP for a 25% reduction in car traffic by 2030 and a 50% reduction in car traffic by 2040. As such it would also undermine the county’s ability to reduce carbon emissions quickly enough.

Chris Todd, director of TAN said:

“This is another dinosaur scheme, thought up before the Paris Agreement or net zero. We have officers glibly claiming that it meets the council’s transport policy yet it clearly undermines the council’s own traffic reduction targets and climate ambitions.

“Officers and councillors claim the road is needed to enable new development but haven’t explained what infrastructure and services will be required to deliver a 50% cut in car traffic by 2040. Instead, it appears to be business as usual, basing new developments on large road schemes and then, years later, wondering why there is so much traffic swamping the roads. Once again this seems to be politicians saying one thing and doing another.”

TAN believes that this debacle illustrates why local planning authorities should not be able to decide their own development proposals. As much as officers and councillors might try and create a separation, the reality is that this is almost impossible when they are naturally all interacting with each other on a regular basis. This is even harder when senior politicians are calling for the road to be built and officers have spent years promoting development on the back of new roads.

Chris Todd said:

“Councils should not be deciding their own applications. There are too many conflicts of interest which undermine proper scrutiny as we have seen in the latest officer’s report. This has resulted in a significant weakening of the council’s objection to the road scheme.”

Ironically, the scheme does not conform to Gove’s vision of developing in built up areas to spare the countryside, made in a speech the day before he called in the application [8].

– ENDS –

Notes to Editors

[1] The application was considered over 2 days on 17 & 18 July 2023 by Oxfordshire County Council’s Planning & Regulation Committee. The vote was 7 – 2 against the scheme.

[2] The HIF1 scheme is a 9 mile, £300 million major road from the A34 at Milton to the Oxford Road (B4015) near Nuneham Courtenay. It is designed to open up significant areas of greenfield development, including within the Green Belt.

[3] The Extraordinary, Planning & Regulation Committee was held on Wednesday, 27 September 2023 to discuss watering down the Council’s opposition to its own planning application.

[4] The officer’s report was criticised on a number of areas and the fact that it recommended delegating further decisions to officers who had recommended acceptance of the scheme in the first place.

[5] The call-in of the application by Michael Gove is considered to be ultra vires Section 77 of the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act and that Article 31 of the 2015 Development Management Procedure Order can’t prohibit the issue of a Decision Notice in the case of a refusal of planning permission. The Article only prohibits a grant of permission.

[6] Oxfordshire’s Local Transport and Connectivity Plan was adopted in July 2022 and is the county’s fifth Local Transport Plan.

[7] From 5:52:31 of the meeting onwards Jason Sherwood, Growth Manager at Oxfordshire County Council said:

“in terms of how decide and provide will affect the infrastructure that you are considering today, the important part of your consideration needs to be how we apply decide and provide to the developers which are feeding off of that infrastructure. So everything which is coming forward at the moment is [depends on it] yes is fundamental. Their transport assessments must be carried out in a decide and provide fashion… That in itself, by default, is going to reduce trips, which is why when this was modelled, which was before decide and provide was adopted by the authority, it was forward thinking and it isn’t a flippant oh we’ll just chuck 20% in here because it works out. There was careful consideration given to that 20% and whether it is achievable…

“So in terms of the policy compliance on those fronts… it very much does meet the policy.”

From 5:55:24

“…it doesn’t have highway infrastructure at its core, because a piece of road, and it might not be HIF, it might be any other piece of road, does not by itself generate traffic”

[8] Extract from Michael Gove’s speech made on 24 July, 2023:

“It is better for the environment, the economy, for productivity and well-being if we use all of the levers that we have to promote urban regeneration – rather than swallowing up virgin land.

“That is why we will enable brownfield development rather than green belt erosion, sustainable growth rather than suburban sprawl.

“So the economic and environmental imperatives all point towards a move away from a land-hungry destruction of natural habitats in favour of a much more efficient regeneration of our cities.”


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