Growth Board expresses disappointment over Government housing land supply decision

The Oxfordshire Growth Board has expressed its disappointment after the Government confirmed it was ending Oxfordshire’s three-year housing land supply flexibility.

The provision meant the county’s five local planning authorities only had to demonstrate three years’ worth of housing land supply, rather than the usual five years.

It was agreed on the basis of the Growth Board’s commitment to producing the Oxfordshire Plan 2050, as part of the Housing and Growth Deal.

While the Plan’s expected completion date has unfortunately had to be pushed back, the Government decided to not extend the land supply flexibility accordingly.

Councillor Michele Mead, vice-chair of the Growth Board, said: “Like all Leaders, I am very disappointed that the Government have not extended this provision alongside the extension of the dates for completing the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 which the variation from the national five-year land supply provisions was intended to support.

“This provision has provided valuable certainty to local communities while we have been developing our longer term plans in Oxfordshire. 

“The risk is that the need to refocus on short term housing land supply considerations will divert resources away from this longer term planning.” 

A short statement from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government confirming the decision was published today (March 25) on the UK Parliament website.

In it, Christopher Pincher MP, Minister of State for Housing, wrote: “Since 2018, Oxfordshire have not finalised and adopted their Joint Statutory Spatial Plan. Therefore, in the best interests of housing delivery in the region, my Department have extended the time afforded to Oxfordshire for the delivery of this plan to 2023. This extension however will not be subject to the original land supply flexibilities. From today, Oxfordshire will need to maintain a five year housing land supply in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework.”

Green Homes Grant will improve conditions for 150 households

At least 150 homes across Oxfordshire will be made more energy efficient, thanks to a successful bid for £1.5 million of government funding.

Oxfordshire County Council was awarded the Green Homes Grant by the government. The council will be working together with expected delivery partner the National Energy Foundation (NEF) to help less well-off households retrofit their homes with energy saving equipment – cutting families’ fuel bills while at the same time helping to reduce the county’s carbon footprint.

Councillor Yvonne Constance, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Environment, said: “For families with limited disposable incomes, affording the necessary improvements to make their homes more energy efficient is especially difficult. This welcome government grant allows us to reach out to some of these householders in our area, helping to make their homes more environmentally friendly and saving money on energy bills too.”

The grant, part of the Green Homes Grant Local Authority Delivery (LAD) scheme, was awarded after a competitive application process to help lift families out of fuel poverty. This is when a household has above average fuel costs and these costs would take their residual income below the official poverty line.

There is a strong link between properties with poor energy efficiency and fuel poverty and respiratory illnesses.

In Oxfordshire, 20 per cent of properties fall into the worst energy efficiency categories, according to the Energy Saving Trust. In 2017, 8.5 per cent of Oxfordshire households were in fuel poverty, while respiratory conditions are estimated to affect 50,000 people.

As well as improving the quality of life of the individual households, the scheme will also help the council work towards its goal of enabling Oxfordshire to become zero carbon by 2050. Residential carbon emissions make up 25 per cent of emissions in the county.

NEF, a registered charity with expertise in energy efficiency and fuel poverty, will work with the county’s five city and district councils (Cherwell, Oxford City, South Oxfordshire, Vale of White Horse and West Oxfordshire) to identify properties that fit the criteria. Eligibility factors include low household incomes and low energy efficient homes. Areas of deprivation will be targeted.

Lord Callanan, the Minister for Climate Change and Corporate Responsibility, said: “Local counties across south-east England are already taking strong action on climate change. Our funding today will help the region meet these ambitions and build back greener, helping people to heat their homes cleanly and cheaply while securing green employment across the area.

“The funding for these exciting housing schemes is levelling up in action. Households across the southern region will enjoy warmer homes, save money on their bills and reduce their carbon footprint in the process, all while supporting and protecting over 8,000 green jobs across the country.”

The scheme will focus on insulation as a method of improving energy efficiency, with each chosen property receiving work worth up to £10,000.

Although households will be targeted and cannot directly apply for this Green Homes Grant funding, other services are more widely available. These include the Better Housing Better Health Service delivered by NEF that provides general warmth and wellbeing support to Oxfordshire – go online at bhbh.org.uk for more information.

There is also a parallel Green Homes Grant scheme that households can apply directly to here.

Environment at centre of Oxfordshire Growth Board work

The Oxfordshire Growth Board has re-affirmed its commitment to the environment with a series of new measures.

At the meeting on March 22, the Board endorsed a Strategic Vision for Oxfordshire – which places environmental wellbeing among its core ambitions, approved establishing an Environment Advisory Group (EAG), and endorsed a set of Oxford-Cambridge Arc-wide Environment Principles.

The Strategic Vision sets out what future growth in Oxfordshire should look like based on improving social, environmental and economic wellbeing for all.

It prioritises tackling climate change and reflects local people’s opinions and priorities as given through a range of engagement exercises.

The Vision provides a number of shared ambitions that reflect the priorities of the county, underpinned by a definition of ‘good growth’ and a set of Guiding Principles.

Among the ambitions are making Oxfordshire not just carbon neutral by 2040 but moving towards carbon negative, being the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than that in which we found it, and improving the overall wellbeing of the population.

Under the Vision, Oxfordshire’s globally competitive economy will be sustainable, diverse and inclusive – creating a more equal county; there will be flourishing, diverse and vibrant communities; and there will be greater connectivity – both digitally and between places with a focus on sustainable and active travel.

It is hoped that the Vision will become the cornerstone of all future plans and strategies for Oxfordshire.

The Vision will not replace or set the specific vision for any individual communities or partner organisations but instead will act as a framework for all future plans and strategies.

You can read the full Strategic Vision here.

It comes as the Board demonstrated its ambition to tackle climate change by establishing an Environment Advisory Group.

The EAG will provide environmental oversight of the Growth Board’s projects and programmes, and be made up of senior councillors from across Oxfordshire, reporting into the Board at regular intervals.  It will also have the ability to co-opt additional members who can bring their expertise from the wider community.

Among the issues it may consider are zero-carbon planning, air and water quality, biodiversity, green infrastructure, agriculture, forestry, waste management and energy production.

The Board also endorsed a set of environmental principles for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc region.

The principles were produced by the Arc Leadership Group – in response to the Government’s announcement it is developing, with local partners, a Spatial Framework for the Arc.

They include targeting net zero carbon by 2040, being an exemplar for environmentally sustainable development, and protecting, restoring, enhancing and creating new nature areas.

The Arc Leadership Group includes elected and senior representatives from many of the Local Authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Business Board, the Arc Universities Group and transport bodies across the Oxford-Cambridge Arc region.

Low energy building standards in local hands

Low energy building standards will continue to be set by local authorities, the Government has confirmed.

Councillor Emily Smith, Chair of the Oxfordshire Growth Board, and Councillor Susan Brown, Chair of the Housing Advisory Sub-Group, wrote to Housing Minister Robert Jenrick setting out the Board’s zero-carbon ambitions.

The letter set out the Board’s belief that the Government can play a strong role in bold improvements in building standards to help meet the aim of net-zero carbon by 2050.

It also highlighted how the Oxfordshire Energy Strategy and the Oxfordshire Industrial Strategy are working in partnership to harness, leverage and scale-up low carbon initiatives to grow our low carbon economy – not just locally – but nationally and internationally too.

The Board outlined some of the challenges in working towards decarbonisation including a skills gap and labour shortage for improving domestic energy efficiency, a lack of incentives for developers and buyers to switch to low carbon homes, and improving building standards being a challenge to affordability and viability

In response, Megan Griffiths from the Energy Performance of Buildings Division in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government re-affirmed the Government’s commitment to net zero.

It also confirmed the Government will continue to allow local authorities to set local energy efficiency standards for buildings.

This will allow local councils to go beyond the minimum standards that are set through national building regulations.

You can read the full reply here.

Growth Board receives update on Oxford/Didcot electrification

The electrification of the rail line between Didcot and Oxford remains a possibility according to the Department for Transport.

Councillor Emily Smith, Chair of the Oxfordshire Growth Board, wrote to the Transport Minister seeking commitment to East-West Rail.

In the letter, Cllr Smith explained how the Government’s pledge to invest in East West Rail was a critical step boosting in Oxfordshire’s connectivity – a cornerstone of the Oxfordshire Strategic Vision.

The letter also set out the Board’s hope that the necessary financial commitment for the remainder of the East West Rail route, together with its integration with the north-south routes that it crosses, will be made as soon as possible.

Chris Heaton-Harris, Minister for Rail, replied and confirmed the Government’s commitment to decarbonisation of the railway as part of its wider commitment to meet net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The MP revealed diesel trains may initially be used as an interim measure between Oxford and Bedford as part of East West Rail’s Connection Stages 1 and 2.

He confirmed a review is being undertaken by East West Rail Company, which is looking at options including full electrification along the whole route as well as partial electrification using battery/electric hybrid rolling stock, and other sustainable rolling stock options.

Mr Heaton-Harris added the electrification of the line between Didcot and Oxford was still a potential scheme, but that any future decision would be subject to a satisfactory business case offering value for money for the taxpayer.

You can read the full response here.

Growth Board receives commitment for more community-led housing from Government

The Oxfordshire Growth Board has received a commitment for more community-led housing (CLH) from the Government.

Emily Smith, Chair of the Growth Board, and Susan Brown, Chair of the Housing Advisory Sub-Group, wrote to the Housing Minister Robert Jenrick about the Community Housing Fund.

The fund supports CLH, which enables communities to develop local, affordable housing that meets their needs.

These houses are typically of a high quality both in terms of design and construction.

Not only that but long-term stewardship of the properties and resident engagement enhances wellbeing and the majority of groups aim to deliver additional amenities to communities such as access to green space, renewable energy infrastructure or community venues such as sports facilities, shops or workspaces.

Oxfordshire already has some examples of community-led housing – Stonesfield CLT is one of the oldest community land trusts in the UK, owning and managing 15 homes in West Oxfordshire.

In the letter, Cllrs Smith and Brown offered the Board’s support and encouragement for the extension of the Community Housing Fund.

Christopher Pincher, Minister of State for Housing, replied confirming £4m had been made available nationally to reopen the Community Housing Fund, with officials currently considering how the funds should be most effectively deployed.

The Minister also added organisations that registered as providers of social housing may seek capital funding from the Shared Ownership and Affordable Homes Programme.

You can read the full letter here.

It comes as a report into how Oxfordshire can support delivering more affordable CLH was published.

The report – commissioned by the Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal and funded by Homes England’s Community Housing Fund – identified and reviewed the three key elements of funding, access to land and technical support which often act as barriers to community housing groups.

You can read the report here.

Work starts on Oxfordshire Extra Care Living development with help from Growth Deal funding

Work has begun on a new 80 apartment Extra Care Living development in Didcot as part of the Great Western Park Urban Extension Scheme.

The three-storey scheme is being developed by Housing 21, a leading not-for-profit provider of Retirement Housing and Extra Care for older people of modest means. The organisation has appointed Midlands-based Deeley Construction as lead contractor.

The development, which is on land at Greenwood Way, is expected to be completed in December 2022 and has received funding from the Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal.

Emily Smith, Chair of the Oxfordshire Growth Board, said: “Affordable care developments like this make a huge difference to our communities – they allow older residents to downsize but still live independently and at the same time free up much needed larger homes for local families.

“This development in particular is very close to many new facilities such as a new supermarket, pub, community centre and good public transport links, on Great Western Park, and it’s exactly the kind of approach to new housing we should be looking at providing.

“The Growth Board has worked really effectively in partnership to allow this to happen with significant funding from the Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal, along with developer contributions provided by Vale of White Horse District Council.”

Following completion, the scheme will provide 60 rented apartments and 20 shared ownership apartments for people over the age of 55. There will also be on-site communal facilities such as a café/bistro, hair salon and communal lounge for both residents and the local community.

It has been designed to be three linked blocks arranged around an internal courtyard, providing open, green space for residents.

The Extra Care scheme offers self-contained, private accommodation to support local older people and has been built with the changing needs associated with age in mind.

It has been designed to promote independent living in a community setting, with access to 24/7 on-site care if required. Residents are expected to start moving in from early 2023.

Deborah Hope, Head of Development at Housing 21, said: “We are delighted to bring our Extra Care offering to Didcot.

“We believe that generally there is a real need for this type of housing, but the current experience of living through the pandemic has highlighted the benefits of extra care even more. It enables people to continue to live independently, in their own safe space whilst receiving quality support both socially and with any of their care requirements.

“We are always mindful of how the construction process can help the local economy and schemes such as these have an economic benefit for the longer term as well creating a great place for the community to come together.”

The project was secured by Deeley Construction via the Homes England DPP3 (Delivery Partner Panel) framework and will be to BREEAM Very Good standard.

Martin Gallagher, managing director of Deeley Construction, added: “It’s fantastic to be strengthening our partnership with Housing 21 and supporting with the delivery of this vital scheme for people in Didcot and surrounding areas.

“This is our second scheme with Housing 21 but we have a great history in delivering Extra Care schemes that meet the needs of the local community.

“It’s great to see our team on site and we are working with community partners to ensure minimal disruption caused by work in the area.”

Energy revolution webinar hosted by Oxford-Cambridge Arc Leadership Group

The Oxford to Cambridge Arc Leadership Group is hosting a webinar on the energy revolution on Tuesday 23 March at 10am.

The online event will showcase energy innovations from across the Arc as well as highlighting challenges and opportunities that the energy revolution presents to the area.

The aim of the webinar is to share knowledge about innovations and approaches that can be scaled-up across the Arc to support ambitious levels of growth without costing the earth.

Panellists will include Emma Southwell-Sander from EnergyTec Cluster, Harwell; Professor Phil Hart, Director Energy and Power at Cranfield University; and Dr Andy Gilchrist from The Energy Systems Accelerator (TESA) at Oxford University.

During the event, the panel of energy experts be talking about and taking questions on:

  • How the energy revolution is affecting the Oxford-Cambridge Arc region already.
  • How the region can maximise the economic and environmental benefits of innovation in energy systems
  • How we can start to unpack what is possible now? In 5 years? Over the next generation?
  • How the Arc can coordinate action to maximise impact
  • What this will take from the Arc partnership?

The Arc is a globally significant area between Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge, made up of the five counties of Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire. It supports over two million jobs, adds over £110 billion to the economy every year, and houses one of the fastest-growing economies in England.

The Arc Leadership Group includes elected and senior representatives from many of the Local Authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Business Board, the Arc Universities Group and transport bodies across the Oxford-Cambridge Arc region.

Registration is via Eventbrite.

Growth Board welcomes call for long-term flood defence investment

The Oxfordshire Growth Board has welcomed the recent Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee report on flooding and the need for greater long-term investment in flood defence maintenance to deliver lasting resilience for our communities.

In a letter to Environment Secretary George Eustice, chair of the Growth Board Emily Smith also called for a national standard for flood resilience.

Flooding represents one of the greatest climate challenges for the UK, and while the Growth Board is determined and committed to reversing the impacts of climate change through the emerging Strategic Vision, record levels of rainfall will continue to disrupt and devastate our communities, families and businesses as a result of this crisis.

Unfortunately, with the recent floods across Oxfordshire earlier this year, our communities have of course already been reminded of our vulnerability in this area.

The Board set out its agreement with the Select Committee that the Government must establish a long-term resource budget settlement, aligned with increased capital investment, so that the Environment Agency and our local councils could effectively plan for and maintain local flood defences.

It also highlighted the need for action to ensure that water services utility companies, in our case Thames Water, can be held to greater account at a local level, especially with their regular failure to clear up sewage.

While this is unfortunately a year-round issue in Oxfordshire, it is of particularly concern during periods of flooding.

Encouraging Thames Water to form closer partnerships with local authorities to address flood mitigation issues on their network is also a key part in achieving further improvements to the local response during flood events.

You can read the full letter here.