Cherwell may have lost the power to control housing development in Banburyshire over the next 17 years, it is feared.
Penalties forced on the district council as a result of the recession have resulted in a virtually unrestrained planning paradise for housing developers.
Cllr Michael Gibbard, Cherwell District Council’s lead member for planning, admitted the authority may not be able to prevent housebuilders leaning on an ‘open door’ and winning the right to build all over the district.
He said that although Cherwell has a rigorously prepared local plan, entering the final stages of being accepted, the penalties it is incurring for not having met housing ‘supply’ during the recession years may prevent it doing so for years to come.
“Our local plan runs from 2006-2031. We have just been through a recession and developers have only built about 300 houses a year of the 650 a year we envisaged,” he said. “We had 4,500 permissions in place but developers have not been starting them, leaving us with a shortfall of about 1,800.”
Mr Gibbard said a new method of measuring targets – the ‘Sedgefield’ method set by a planning appeals inspector in a ground-breaking case in Somerset – requires a shortfall to be made good within five years, not by the end of the local plan period.
For Cherwell that means its shortfall of 1,800 homes will be added to its quota of 650 homes a year – all to be met within five years.
And if it fails, it could be landed with yet further penalties it cannot meet. Mr Gibbard said in practice, the long-anticipated Bankside development will only produce about 150 houses a year.
“So we would need eight Banksides every year to meet the current target,” he said.
He explained that controversial applications such as those in Bourne Lane, Hook Norton, Bloxham, Adderbury and Deddington had been passed because they failed the national planning policy framework.
This says where there is not a five year ‘supply’ of houses, appeals inspectors will deem there to be consent for a site, no matter how unsuitable it is.
Cherwell’s local plan will be examined at a two-week inquiry at Bodicote House in April. Mr Gibbard said it is well evidenced but could always fail on a technicality.