Oxfordshire Growth Board agrees new joint initiatives

Oxfordshire Growth Board has agreed a raft of new initiatives that further consolidate collaborative working across the county’s six local authorities and the local enterprise partnership.

The Growth Board, which met today, approved proposals to develop a joint spatial plan for Oxfordshire; to apply to the Government to set up a countywide pilot for retention and pooling of business rates in 2018/19; and to create a ‘Living Lab’ within the county to test and measure the impact of a variety of innovative approaches to improve health, mobility and energy generation.

Joint Spatial Plan

A Joint Spatial Plan will build on councils’ existing Local Plans. This will provide an Oxfordshire-wide integrated strategic planning framework to support sustainable growth across the county, including the planned delivery of the new homes and economic development, and the anticipated supporting infrastructure needed. It will also enable councils’ future Local Plans to focus on local aspects of planning implementation.

The Joint Spatial Plan will set the strategic direction for planning up to 2050 – a date that aligns with the Oxfordshire Transport Strategy and the development of the Oxford Cambridge Growth Corridor. It will also build on the extensive assessment of the infrastructure development required to support growth in housing and the economy expected over the next 25 years, which is set out in the Oxfordshire Infrastructure Strategy. Key objectives are to give the public a clear overview of the countywide growth picture and greater opportunities to engage in collective decision making, and to avoid incremental, speculative and unplanned development.

Business Rates Retention Pilot

An application to Government will be made to pilot 100 per cent retention of any increase in business rates income to all six Oxfordshire councils in 2018/19. Currently councils are permitted to keep only 50 per cent of uplift in business rates levied. The additional 50 per cent retained under the pilot would be pooled among the councils and used to support economic growth across the county as a whole, and to finance commonly agreed projects that benefit local communities.

Business rates retention provides a strong incentive to support local business growth. Oxfordshire has been very successful at generating business rate growth, with income up by 12.5% (£33m) over the past three years and all districts showing growth.

A significant proportion of the estimated £20m of additional pooled funds would be used to support economic growth across the county through infrastructure schemes and Town & Village regeneration. The balance would support individual projects agreed through the Growth Board such as key worker accommodation schemes, cycle paths and shared ownership housing.

Living Labs

The Growth Board agreed to support work that around the development of “Living Labs” initiatives in Oxfordshire. Living Labs is an area of public policy which is increasingly gaining the attention of national and local government across the UK and internationally. It aims to pilot innovative ideas and new technologies in specific locations and test their effectiveness in tackling a range of different challenges such as health, mobility and sustainable energy.

With the planned development of two Garden Towns and a Garden Village across Oxfordshire, there is the opportunity to look at the lessons learned in other geographies and assess where living lab approaches can be successfully explored in the County.

Living Labs could measure the effectiveness of introducing new technologies and approaches to sustaining independent living and keeping people healthy and out of hospitals; improving the mobility of people and goods across the county – with a focus on leisure as well as work; and encouraging consumer take-up of small-scale renewables, microgeneration and energy storage.

Councillor Bob Price, Leader of Oxford City Council and current Chair of the Oxfordshire Growth Board, said:

“I’m pleased the Oxfordshire Growth Board is continuing to work collaboratively in the collective interest of Oxfordshire, its residents and businesses to help deliver the best possible growth outcomes for the county – recognising individual communities will require different solutions. We want to ensure growth is sustainable and enhances people’s quality of life, provides opportunities for the next generation and delivers more of the right types of housing.”

The Oxfordshire Growth Board comprises the six councils: Cherwell District Council, Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council, South Oxfordshire District Council, Vale of White Horse District Council and West Oxfordshire District Council, together with the county’s Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP).