Saturday, July 19, 2008

Housing for Oxford: Labour misses the opportunity

So, Ms Blears announced, like the Fairy Godmother to Cinderella, that Oxford can have an urban extension. People will rush to fight over whether south of Grenoble Road is the best place to build, but in scrambling to do so, they'll miss the bigger issue.

What has been announced, from what I have seen, is that an estate of 4,000 houses, 40% of them affordable, can be built in that area. If Andrew Smith imagines that that is anywhere near large enough even to dent substantially the housing crisis this city and this county faces, he just doesn't appreciate the magnitude of the problem.

The Secretary of State's response to the Structure Plan was a real opportunity for the government to call for a strategic vision for solving the crisis -- and that must begin a review of the whole Green Belt. But, as so often, they've bungled their chance and missed an open goal.

Those of us who believe in the concept of the Green Belt and want to see it last would have supported a proper, full review. There is nothing worse than a piecemeal removal of one section from the Belt, allowing the argument to be made in the next decade that a precedent has been set and yet one more section should also be removed -- and so it will go, decade after decade. On the other side, of course, are the Tories who stand for no building anywhere: they can't even seen the housing crisis beyond the gates at the end of their manicured lawn. But their attitude that the Green Belt, in its present format, is sacrosanct in every regard is equally unsustainable. Their friends, the developers, will see to that. In the meantime, there are people in desperate need and it should be our first duty to help them. Sadly, once again, the Conservatives have shown they aren't in on it and Labour that they aren't up to it.


donpaskini said...

Is there a calendar where you open it up and each different month has a different Lib Dem housing policy?

So in May, you supported an urban extension, under your wise and charming predecessor.

Then in June, the new priority was called 'hands off our countryside', in which you attacked 'Labour and Tory county councillors who want to build in the Green Belt near Oxford'. I guess you considered standing up for those in housing need, but there aren't very many of them in Henley, so you decided instead to stand up for millionaires worried about their house prices.

Now July's housing policy is that it would be a missed opportunity to build 4000 new homes, including 1600 affordable. Instead no homes should be built, and instead there should be a review about where to build a much larger number of houses, at some point in the indeterminate future.

What will August bring?

David Rundle said...


Far below your usual standard -- especially as you know that the LibDem group's line has not changed. We have always said that the housing crisis is too large to be solved by a single initiative and it's clear, now that your minister has announced the size of a Grenoble Road estate, it would be insufficient to come close to sorting out this issue. A strategic review of the Green Belt would only slow down much-needed house-buiding if it was put off and put off -- which is pretty much what your government is doing.

Mark said...

I infer you (David) would have preferred a wider review to consider the housing issues before reaching a decision on Grenoble. 

There are benefits from that approach but the drawbacks seem to outweigh them. Waiting for a broader review of housing need means the current status quo continues for longer than necessary.

I would predict any enquiry, irrespective of party in power, will get bogged down as arguments (and interests) are so well entrenched.

Moreover any review is likely to recommend an urban extension, not least as housing people close to their work means fewer citizens wasting their time (and fuel) trundling up and down the congested A34.

On a personal level I'm pleased to see the proposal go forward – as it seems to have been a long time coming. However I'm equally sure it is not the end of the issue. Even after this extension the city will face a serious housing shortage.

Local employers report they either can't attract, or retain staff. So the housing shortages not only cause personal misery - they are also holding back the economy of our City.

So we should welcome the Grenoble Road decision and plan for creation of a sustainable and balanced community on the site. However we should also press for the wider strategic review of housing needs for this city as David argues.

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