The master plan which will shape housing and commercial development in Banbury for the next 18 years was finally approved by Cherwell District Council on Monday.
The Local Development Plan outlines planning policy including key housing developments and commercial expansion up to 2031. It was finally given the green light after some five years in the making at a full council meeting at Bodicote House.
Evidence is being gathered and the plan will now be passed on to government inspectors for final approval.
Councillor Michael Gibbard, the council’s lead member for planning and development, told the meeting: “We need a plan to set out how our district will grow and change over the next 18 years and beyond. Without a sound plan we lose the ability to make sure development takes place in the most sustainable locations and we lose the ability to make sure future community needs are properly met.”
Mr Gibbard said the plan’s main aims were to secure economic growth, create sustainable communities and sustainable development and to make positive improvements to the quality of the natural, built and historic environment and to people’s quality of life.
Labour group leader Sean Woodcock said his party endorsed the plan but criticised the amount of time it had taken to get it approved.
He said the delay was partly responsible for major housing applications at Hook Norton and Bloxham gaining approval from central government recently, despite not featuring in the plan. “It’s somewhat like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted,” he said.
Cllr George Reynolds also criticised the decision to extend the Hanwell Fields estate, which is included in the plan and was given planning permission earlier this year.
He said he was “ashamed” of the way the council had approved the 350-home development despite negative feedback from consultees.
Mr Reynolds added he had a suspicion that all the planned sites for housing developments in rural areas would be rubber stamped by the council anyway before the local plan is finally approved by the government.
Separately the council backed proposals to re-draw its ward boundaries following a Local Government Boundary Commission review last year. In line with the review the council opted to reduce its size to 48 members so that each ward can be represented by three councillors – one of whom is elected each year.
The council also backed a long-discussed scheme for the re-opening of part of the East-West rail line linking Oxford directly with Bicester.
It has been suggested the scheme would bring significant economic benefits to Bicester and its environs but speaking after the meeting Cllr Nicholas Turner said there was a need to ensure the level of service between Banbury and London Marylebone is also maintained despite the new rail link.
Finally, councillor Surinder Dhesi called on the council to ask representatives of the Horton General Hospital to address a full, publicly accessible council meeting to explain the reasons why abdominal surgery had been withdrawn from the hospital. Chairman Barry Wood agreed with the proposal.