Oxford and Cherwell Local Plans are being contested by Green Belt campaigners, including 25 councillors, campaigners, and Layla Moran MP. The Oxford Local Plan – recently agreed by independent planning inspectors – is set to build almost 11,000 homes in Oxford by 2036. The Cherwell Development Watch Alliance (CDWA), who is contesting the plan, claims the University of Oxford is at the forefront of the planning and will be a primary beneficiary of the new housing. 

The stated purpose of the Local Plans is to address the Oxford housing crisis, with a particular emphasis on providing affordable housing. The CDWA claims the University and its Colleges intend to retain the majority of affordable housing for their own use.

Oxford City Council argues there is not room in Oxford to meet the city’s housing needs. Many of the proposed new homes have been assigned to other district councils. 4,400 new homes were assigned to the Cherwell District Council – which is the entirety of new housing proposed in a partial review of its Local Plan. 

A letter written by Alan Lodwick of the CDWA – addressed to the Secretary of State for Housing – claims that the Oxford City Council overestimates the city’s need for 28,000 new homes over the next 20 years. Such a development would be approximately as large as the existing city of Oxford. CDWA claims the Office for National Statistics’ projection of a decline in population over the time frame supports their evidence for the City Council’s overestimate. 

CDWA opposes the Local Plans because they argue it will bring the demise of the Green Belt separating Oxford from Kidlington, and Kidlington from Yarnton and Begbroke. The letter points out that the election-winning Conservative manifesto pledged to prevent building on Green Belt land unless there was a justifiable need for it.

The letter argues that the Local Plans are not supported by local residents and that there is unprecedented objection to the Cherwell Council plans. Local residents have resisted Oxford City Council’s expansion into surrounding areas. The letter was undersigned by Layla Moran, County Councillors, all local District Councillors, all local Parish Council Chairs, planning professionals and local organisations opposing the Oxford and Cherwell Local Plans.

In a statement to Cherwell, CDWA said: “Oxford University together with Christ Church, Merton and Exeter Colleges have invested heavily in the Cherwell Local Plan in order to get their land allocated for development… The University and Colleges own plenty of land within the city, much of it under-utilised, but are striving to push development into the countryside around Oxford in the name of meeting Oxford City’s housing need. They are also doing the same on an even bigger scale in the Green Belt in South Oxfordshire District.”

CDWA claims the University already owns underused land that is either protected or promoted for commercial use. They say the University could use this land for purposes essential to have in Oxford City. CDWA recommends the use of satellite locations for the University to protect the green spaces in and around Oxford. 

“CDWA disputes Oxford’s claimed unmet housing need and opposes 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 is intended to prevent. The University and Colleges and their well paid agents and lawyers have worked hard to make the most of this opportunity to concrete over an important part of the Oxford Green Belt – and to swell their coffers,” the CDWA statement said. 

The CDWA statement alleges the University’s role in the Local Plans evidences a contradiction in its approach to climate change: “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 destruction of a 113 year old ‘green lung’ in the form of the North Oxford Golf Course with thousands of trees most of which will be destroyed.”

CDWA argues that, despite the stated purpose of the plans to address unmet housing needs in Oxford, the University will retain the majority of affordable housing. The Local Plans do not state the University’s role, and the CDWA calls on the plan to do so. “[At] least one half – and probably much more – of the new housing will be market housing, which will do nothing to meet the need for affordable housing in the City. Instead it will be highly profitable for the University and Colleges and their commercial partners and, most likely, aimed at the London commuter market. The University and Colleges will effectively be behaving as property development companies to provide this market housing, which has nothing to do with their purpose and charitable aims.”

The letter from the Green Belt campaigners recognises the importance of the University and its world-class research. While they acknowledge a desire to see the University thrive, they claim this could happen without the proposed “destruction” of the Green Belt. 

CDWA welcomes student support for their efforts and recommends students reach out to the Vice Chancellor and principals of Christ Church, Merton, and Exeter to voice their concerns. 

Despite the controversy, the Oxford Local Plan was agreed by inspectors who concluded the plan was legally sound and justified in building into the Green Belt. They agreed that for Oxford to meet its goal of building approximately 678 affordable homes per year, approximately 1,400 total homes would need to be built per year. 

The inspectors, Jonathan Bore and Nick Fagan, concluded: “The situation in Oxford, with its stark inequalities and a very large and growing number of households unable to access market housing, clearly justifies the plan’s approach.”

The University of Oxford and Oxford City Council were contacted for comment on the objections to the Oxford and Cherwell Local Plans.