A new report published today by independent consultancy Opinion Research Services (ORS) directly questions the growth needs proposed as the basis for the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 currently being prepared. [Download the full report - PDF)
The Report criticises the methodologies used for calculating population and employment growth in the county, and more especially in the city of Oxford itself, where much higher population levels are predicted than in more recent official projections. The calculations, which will be used for deciding the future number of new houses to be built, appeared in the Oxfordshire Growth Needs Assessment (OGNA), an analysis produced as a key part of last summer’s Regulation 18 Consultation on the Oxfordshire Plan.
Publication of the Housing Assessment in 2021 had already met with widespread criticism from local civic groups, leading to a call for a peer review of the OGNA, a review being a customary device for assessing the credibility of such an analysis. The call, in a letter signed by a number of high-profile civic groups, went out in November last year to leaders of the Oxfordshire County, District and City councils; to Oxfordshire MPs; and to members of the Advisory Group for the Oxfordshire Plan 2050. To date, the Future Oxfordshire Partnership (formerly the Oxfordshire Growth Board) has side-stepped the call for a peer review, leading the Cherwell Development Watch Alliance (CDWA) to commission their own review from ORS, a consultancy specialising in strategic housing market assessments.
Suzanne McIvor, chair of CDWA, commented:
“Recently adopted local plans already commit Oxfordshire to 85,000 new houses with around 19,000 of them on the Oxford Green Belt. The Oxfordshire Plan 2050 threatens to bring as many as another 67,000 houses. The OGNA consultants have created their own “Adjusted” Standard Method which uses questionable techniques to predict specious higher population growth in Oxford City. This would likely be allocated to the Districts thereby putting extensive areas of the Green Belt under further threat.”
David Young of CDWA and a member of the group Planning Oxfordshire's Environment and Transport Sustainably (POETS, a body of professionals and academics with long experience in planning), continued:
“The OGNA is all about growth but it is not made clear that this is a choice in Oxfordshire. The ORS Report shows in detail that this is not a normal housing market assessment prepared using standard techniques. The methods used do not appear to be standard practice, nor do they follow government policy. Furthermore, the OGNA ignores reductions in population projections by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and manipulates its own projections upwards using what ORS considers to be unreliable alternative data.”
Giles Lewis, also a CDWA committee member, said:
“Amongst its findings, the ORS Report considers that the OGNA significantly over-estimates likely future employment leading to over-statement of the number of dwellings required. Tellingly, it calls into question the soundness of the OGNA as supporting evidence for the development of the Oxfordshire Plan.”
Mr. Lewis concluded:
“The ORS report on the OGNA exposes its many shortcomings. We are calling on the Future Oxfordshire Partnership to reconsider whether this document provides a sufficiently sound basis on which to decide the housing requirement for the Oxfordshire Plan 2050.”
*Note: The Cherwell Development Watch Alliance (CDWA) is an association of five local groups formed in 2019 to challenge the building of houses on the Green Belt north of Oxford by the Cherwell District Council.