Sunday, September 07, 2008

How to be a bad winner: guidance brought to you by Labour

Labour in Oxford are living proof there's such a thing as a bad winner.

A couple of months ago, their government effectively gave the green light to an urban extension at Grenoble Road. Let's leave aside that, as I pointed out before, it will only provide well under 2000 units of affordable housing, that it would have been better to have a strategic review of the whole Green Belt, not just one part of it -- this is not the solution to the housing crisis that Labour would like to pretend it might be, but at least there are going to be much-needed houses.

In short, the case is won. But are Labour happy? Rather than follow their government's instructions that the two local authorities who have an interest in this site -- Oxford City Council and South Oxfordshire District Council -- should sit down and work together, Labour seem intent on doing the opposite.

The City Council has put in a request to the Boundary Commission that, in 2009, it review Oxford's boundaries with the aim of bringing in the planned urban extension to the city. Never mind that building is necessarily some years off -- there's a sewage works to move, after all -- and that this is therefore hopelessly premature. This is bound to ratchet up tension with Oxford's neighbours, making it less likely rather than more that the project will move ahead quickly.

Of course, no one is suggesting that working with the Tories of South Oxfordshire will be easy. The Conservatives' first reaction to talk of a housing crisis is 'what crisis', the second 'that's not our problem.' But the situation's changed: as Grenoble Road is going to happen, even a Tory should realise it's in South Oxfordshire's interest to be at the table. That's the only way they can work to minimise the difficulties they fear from an extension. They should be there to get cast-iron guarantees for the rest of the land around the site. And it's in the City's interest to be at the table too: we're going to have to work with our neighbours if we really want to deal with the challenges the new build will necessarily create.

Instead, we have the City Council willing up a stand-off from which no one will win -- least of all the people in dire housing need who should be our first priority.