In June 2016 we received a large number of responses from members of the local community to our questionnaires asking for comments about the MCNP process and policies. An average of 95% of responses were supportive, but many also added comments, raised concerns, or asked questions. It is not possible with our limited resources to answer personally each and every query, but the following questions and answers are an attempt to address those most often raised.
Please also look elsewhere on this website for more information about the purpose of the Plan and the progress we have made so far.
Q: The objectives are all very noble but why are they so woolly and unspecific?
A: We are following an established process for Neighbourhood Plans, that involves a number of distinct stages. The first stage was to ask the community what concerns they felt the Plan should address. Out of all the comments from 480 people who attended meetings in February 2016, we distilled the major issues, which were:
Percentage of comments
The Forum (representing all eleven parishes) then formulated a series of broad objectives, and these were tested out in the June 2016 engagement events, of which the questionnaire was a major element. We were saying “this is what we think you’ve told us – do you agree?”. A few people have been critical that we have been consulting too early. Many more, though, have appreciated that this was an important stage. Now we know we are proceeding with a strong community mandate (an average 95% of those responding having said yes) we can move to the next stage, where the objectives are translated into detailed and carefully-written policies that can withstand expert scrutiny.
Q: What is the timescale for consultation on the actual policies of the Plan?
A: The policies are being drafted over the summer, and during September 2016 will be ready to publish for public comment. At every stage, we have to be able demonstrate that we have opened up our process to the community, and that support is being maintained. It is very likely that once we have feedback from the community and from Cherwell District Council and experts elsewhere, we will be modifying our policies. We hope that a further version will be available by the end of 2016, and that we will make our formal submission soon afterwards.
Q: The Government doesn’t listen to local people; what can really be achieved by this Neighbourhood Plan, when past Parish Plans were often ineffective?
A: The Localism Act (2011) put in place a number of legal measures that gave new powers to local communities. Neighbourhood Plans are one of the most popular, and there are currently over 1,700 such Plans being worked on all over England. Prior to that, Parish Plans were “nice to have” but had no statutory power. When our Neighbourhood Plan is formally adopted in 2017 it will form part of the statutory Development Plan and will be used by the local planning authority to determine whether planning permission should be approved or refused for development in our parishes; the local planning authority is required by law to determine planning applications in accordance with the Development Plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Developers can of course appeal to the Secretary of State to overturn a refusal of planning permission; the Secretary of State will review the planning application and come to his/her own decision. The benefits of having produced an 11-parish Plan will have wider implications too – a stronger sense of direction for the local community and its parish councils, and new opportunities to fight for and resolve some of the many issues that have been identified.
Q: Why are so few younger people currently engaged with the Plan?
A: Results from our returned questionnaires show that 54% of respondents are 60 or over. Only 5% are in the age range 19-35, which is disappointing, but perhaps unsurprising. Most of those engaging with the Plan so far are retired or near-retirement, because they have more time to do so. They are also often long-time residents of the area, and have strong feelings about issues, having seen things change over time. Their children have often grown up and moved away, frequently unable to afford house prices in the area (this is one of the important issues the Plan is going to try to address). The younger people who do live in the community do not tend to read village magazines, village websites, even email newsletters. The Forum is engaged in an “inclusivity” strategy to involve more young people through the sports and other groups that they belong to, through social media, and – importantly – by putting in place policies that will engage the future adults of our community. If you have any suggestions to help us engage with younger people please contact us at email@example.com
Q: How can the Plan help with speed and volume of traffic, and numbers of HGVs passing through our parishes?
A: The MCNP will be used to determine planning applications for new development within the Plan area. The MCNP will include policies on traffic and transport, identifying the key areas of concern and matters that would need to be addressed by a development proposal where this is likely to result in additional traffic on our local roads.
It is hoped that traffic mitigation measures around the area affected by development at Heyford Park can be included as planning conditions, reinforced by policies in the Neighbourhood Plan. Some of these measures would be directed at specific locations where speed, volume and HGV traffic are major concerns.
Q: What can be done to provide local jobs and reduce car usage, especially for new residents of Heyford Park?
A: The Government has adopted the concept of a presumption in favour of “sustainable development”. The concept of sustainable development is wide-ranging and includes the economic, social and environmental effects of a development. Sustainable development should seek to deliver positive improvements in the quality of the built, natural and historic environment as well as in the community’s quality of life.
The Local Plan requires 1,500 new jobs to be created at Heyford Park over the 15-year period to 2031, as well as 1,600 new homes. Our Neighbourhood Plan may include policies that favour employment development which will be available to Heyford Park residents and those in the wider neighbourhood. An effective “travel plan” is now a requirement for scrutiny by planners for developments likely to give rise to significant levels of traffic. The travel plan is required to demonstrate how use of cars and other vehicles is to be minimised. Our Neighbourhood Plan can reinforce such policies and require appropriate measures to be taken (e.g. creation of cycleways, new footpaths, funding of bus services).
Q: Why do we need any more housing in the Neighbourhood?
A: Our neighbourhood plan has to be in conformity with the approved Local Plan. If it isn’t it won’t pass the “basic conditions” test for adoption as a statutory document next year. Cherwell DC’s Local Plan, formally adopted in 2015 after a public examination, requires that about 22,000 additional homes be built across the entire district by 2031. The number of homes proposed has been identified through the undertaking of an Objectively Assessed Housing Need Assessment which identifies the growth in housing required to meet the needs of the existing and future population of the entire district. The Local Plan proposes that majority of these homes are to be built in and around the urban areas of Banbury, Bicester and Kidlington, as well as specific identified sites including Heyford Park.
However, the Local Plan also allows for developments of one or a few homes in small gaps in the otherwise built up limits (infilling) and the conversion of existing buildings to new homes (conversions) may occur in any of our villages. In addition, it is expected that small developments of typically up to 10 dwellings (minor development) may occur within the villages of Fritwell, Kirtlington and Steeple Aston (Category A villages) and Lower Heyford and Middle Aston (Category B villages).
The Local Plan proposes that 750 dwellings, as part of the 22,000 additional homes required, will be built within and around the 23 Category A villages, of which Fritwell, Kirtlington and Steeple Aston fall within the MCNP area. A proportion of the 750 dwellings have already been built or granted planning permission; CDC proposes later in 2016 to identify possible sites within Category A villages for development to meet the remainder of this target. As we have said, the MCNP is required to conform to the policies of the Local Plan, but we can shape how and where these homes are delivered.
There is another important issue. The Government has said that where a Local Plan’s approved housing target is in danger of not being delivered (the so-called 5-year local housing supply), then the policies of the Development Plan (both the Local Plan and Neighbourhood Plans) are no longer considered up to date. In such an event, proposals for additional housing from developers are more likely to be approved. Effectively both the Local Plan and our Neighbourhood Plan would in these circumstances lose much of their power to resist inappropriate development. We are therefore obliged to support the Local Plan targets and to do everything we can to keep agreed housing completion numbers up to speed. The role of our Neighbourhood Plan is to help control where and how these developments are permitted (but not whether in principle they should be).
Q: Why should any development be permitted on greenfield sites?
A: When and if our three Category A villages wish to promote small-scale housing development to support District-wide and local housing need, suitable sites will have to be found. If there are such sites on the edges of these villages that meet the relevant criteria, but are greenfield sites, they can nevertheless be designated as “rural exception sites”. The loss of modest-sized fields may be a price worth paying if local people can be successfully housed in affordable homes (see also the next question).
In the case of Heyford Park, discussions are under way at the present time about the sites where the additional 1600 homes allocated in the Local Plan will go. The developer – Dorchester Group – would prefer to adopt a brownfield first approach to deliver the housing required especially as, they argue, such brownfield land is in plentiful supply in parts of the former air base. The whole site, however, is a designated conservation area, and so Cherwell District Council prefers to see some of the homes developed on greenfield land outside this boundary. This dilemma, which has strong advocates on both sides, is not one which can at this stage be influenced by the Mid-Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan.
Q: How can you ensure that any “affordable housing” built will be genuinely affordable and available for local people?
A: The Local Plan requires that a housing developer seeking to build more than 10 new market houses is required to deliver a minimum of 35% of these as affordable houses, albeit there may be reasons why a smaller number of affordable dwellings or alternative provision is negotiated with the local planning authority. Affordable housing may be provided in a variety of ways including social rented, affordable rented, or intermediate housing. The Government defines affordable rented housing as being 80% of market value; it is also proposing a new form of affordable housing called ‘Starter Homes’ although the precise details of these are not yet known. Depending on the type of affordable housing provided, the local planning authority will require the developer to enter into an agreement to deliver it and to prioritise the needs of local people, as appropriate. A similar agreement is required where a developer seeks to deliver affordable housing as part of a Rural Exception Scheme as mentioned above.
In addition, we are looking into the options by which “community-led housing” schemes can be implemented, and by which initial costs can be kept low enough to achieve the goal of housing well below market prices. How to maintain that status in perpetuity is another goal that is being investigated. At this stage, precedents elsewhere in England suggest that such schemes can be delivered if there is strong support and expertise available.
Q: What happens if there is a low turnout at the Referendum?
A: Most Neighbourhood Plans so far approved have managed voter turnout higher than for general elections. That is our aim too, but we are conscious that Mid-Cherwell is a larger geographical area than most others, and that consequently there might be a more diffuse response across our eleven parishes. The rules state that, regardless of the turnout, the Plan will be made if more than half the votes cast are in favour.