The University`s responsibility for protecting Oxford`s Green Belt

The University`s responsibility for protecting Oxford`s Green Belt
I am writing on behalf of the Cherwell Development Watch Alliance, an alliance of 5 local groups opposing the Oxford Local Plan and the Cherwell District Partial Review.

We have asked the Local Planning Authorities to pause the adoption of these Plans. We have also written to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government asking him to call in the Plans for review in line with his government’s manifesto commitment to protect the Green Belt. I attach a copy of the letter, which spells out our reasons, for your information.

We are writing to you to ask you to reconsider your Plans for the Oxford Green Belt.

We know that the University, and several Colleges including Merton, Exeter and Christ Church are striving to push development into the countryside around Oxford in the name of meeting Oxford City's housing need.
On the basis of robust evidence, CDWA disputes Oxford's claimed unmet housing need. That Council claims it needs 28,000 new dwellings over the next 20 years. This is equivalent to a new development about half as big again as Oxford; it cannot possibly be need, especially as the latest forecast by the ONS is that Oxford`s population is now set to decline.

In particular, we oppose Cherwell District Council's plans to build 4,400 homes for Oxford's unmet need entirely on the Green Belt to the north of Oxford. This will lead to urban sprawl, coalescence of existing distinct settlements, the removal of a strategic gap and destruction of the countryside; precisely the things that the Green Belt – which helps make Oxford such a special place - is intended to prevent.  The University and Colleges, through their agents and lawyers, are seeking to make the most of this opportunity to concrete over an important part of the Oxford Green Belt. 

Critically, this is at a time when the Climate Emergency demands a wholly new approach to planning. Ironically, the University has a wealth of expertise in these areas (Prof Dieter Helm, Prof Kathy Willis, the Environmental Change Institute - for example) urging us to leave behind the ineffective battles between the environment and the economy in order to develop sustainable eco-friendly economic growth.  The contradiction in the University's approach here is huge. On the one hand it has a huge skill base working to address climate change, whilst on the other it is decimating the Oxford Green Belt that provides an opportunity to protect the City of Oxford.  This includes the unnecessary destruction of a 113 year old 'green lung' in the form of the North Oxford Golf Course; the very epitome of a Green Belt use, with thousands of trees - most of which will be destroyed. 

The significant changes following from the current Covid pandemic (which will affect nearly all many patterns of life, from student incomes to the housing market) should also condition future response and deserve pause for thought.

The stated purpose of the Cherwell Plan is to provide homes for Oxford's unmet need and particularly for affordable housing. However, we now know that the University and Colleges intend to retain the majority of the affordable homes for their own use.  Nowhere does the plan state this and we believe that to be highly misleading. In addition at least one half - and probably much more - of the new housing will be market housing, likely to be aimed at the London commuter market. None of this will meet the declared need for affordable housing in the City. The University and Colleges will effectively be behaving as property development companies to provide this market housing, which has little or nothing to do with their purpose and charitable aims.

We recognise the importance of the University to the City and the world class teaching and research it undertakes. We want to see it continue to thrive. However we believe this can happen without the destruction of the Green Belt that is being proposed.  The University and Colleges own much underutilised land within the City and some is being protected or promoted for commercial uses. Such land should be used for those purposes which it is essential for the University to have in Oxford. However, in this world of high speed internet connections, the University could also grow more effectively by developing at satellite locations in Oxfordshire, elsewhere within the UK, and even across the world. We think this is preferable to a University and historic City choked by urban sprawl.

In these troubling times of Climate Emergency and Pandemic, and for the well-being of the University, Oxford and Oxfordshire, we urge you to reconsider your plans.
Yours sincerely,
 Giles Lewis,
Chair, Cherwell Development Watch Alliance