This part of the Plan outlines the spatial strategy options on which we are seeking views. It begins by explaining the purpose of the options, the principles on which they are based, the criteria used to evaluate them and links with the Sustainability Appraisal process. The section outlines the scale and distribution of committed growth in Oxfordshire's existing local plans and goes on to describe five spatial strategy options. This part of the Plan concludes with a section on the process for selecting a preferred spatial strategy option and broad locations for growth in the Regulation 19 Plan.
Proposed Spatial Strategy
At this stage in the Plan preparation process, we are not identifying individual spatial strategy options that can necessarily accommodate all of Oxfordshire's growth over the next 30 years. Nor is any one of the options, taken in isolation, likely to form Oxfordshire's eventual long-term spatial strategy. It is much more likely that the preferred strategy in the Regulation 19 Plan will comprise components from more than one of the options which, when combined together and depending on how robust the potential interventions are likely to be, will most effectively deliver the Plan's priorities and the outcomes set out in the Strategic Vision for Oxfordshire.
Presenting a set of options allows us to explore how, and the extent to which, each option would deliver Oxfordshire's ambitions for long-term, transformative, sustainable development. The options have been broadly defined to consider opportunities for 'good' housing and economic growth, but also opportunities for a wider range of improvements that contribute to 'good growth', including new infrastructure and environmental enhancements, as well as the scope for enhancing the beneficial use of the Green Belt, and constraints.
It is important that each of the options is 'reasonable', clearly defined and sufficiently distinctive to allow for robust testing as part of the plan-making process. Nevertheless, the five spatial strategy options are underpinned by a set of common principles.
All options help deliver the Oxfordshire Strategic Vision and the Plan's Vision & Objectives. They seek to align economic, social and environmental objectives – though each option does this in different ways and to varying degrees because each is based on a different key driver for transformation.
All options make effective use of land by planning positively for re-use of previously developed or brownfield land, including under-utilised land and buildings as urban regeneration schemes.
All options prioritise the environment as a common thread that flows from the Oxfordshire Strategic Vision. This includes climate change, nature recovery, natural capital and enhanced resilience. This means there is no separate environment-led option.
All options support the City of Oxford as the key driver for good growth within Oxfordshire.
All options give priority to national policies that protect areas or assets that are of particular intrinsic importance and are likely to endure over the whole Plan period and are likely to impact on the distribution of development at the strategic scale.
All options will seek to influence and shape the priorities within the emerging Spatial Framework for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.
All options recognise that in the short-term, adopted local plans will be particularly important in shaping Oxfordshire's spatial strategy, but that over the longer-term – the 30-year time-span of the Oxfordshire Plan – there is greater scope to effect change, but also greater uncertainty.
To evaluate the options, we have identified what the three overarching objectives of sustainable development mean in an Oxfordshire context and set them out as a set of criteria. There is a strong read-across between these criteria, Oxfordshire's Strategic Vision and this Plan's Vision & Objectives.
Guiding new development to the most sustainable locations.
Using land effectively by planning positively for brownfield land and supporting urban regeneration.
Protection and enhancement of Oxfordshire's highly valued countryside and landscape.
Enhancement of the network of green spaces and blue infrastructure in urban and rural areas in ways that deliver social, economic and environmental benefits.
Support for nature's recovery in ways that optimise the range of economic and social benefits that nature provides.
Creation of places that build community resilience in terms of climate change, health of habitats and healthy place-shaping.
Maintenance of an effective Green Belt around Oxford and enhancement of its beneficial use in line with national policy.
Planning for growth opportunities that will reduce inequalities and improve the health and wellbeing of the most disadvantaged.
Strengthening the conditions that support our network for economic activity comprising innovation hubs and clusters and corridors based on science and technology and other key economic assets.
Reducing the need to travel and improving connectivity, with new development located where there is existing or planned sustainable transport links (or the potential for such links based on new investment) and the potential for active travel.
Planning for further development at existing settlements where this can be done sustainably.
Contributing to the success of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.
The evaluation of the options presented here is consistent, robust, objective, evidence-based, transparent and sets out at a high level the positive and negative impacts of each option and the interventions that would be required to deliver it.
The Sustainability Appraisal has played – and will continue to play – an important ongoing role in strategy and option development. The 'Introducing the Oxfordshire Plan 2050' consultation document included the following set of spatial scenario typologies:
Spatial Scenario Typologies, February 2019
Scenario 1: Intensification of city, town and district centres
Scenario 2: New settlements
Scenario 3: Dispersal with development spread evenly across the county, including in smaller settlements
Scenario 4: 'Wheel' settlement cluster with a focus on Oxford and the existing larger towns and key corridors into Oxford and between towns
Scenario 5: Intensification around the edges of larger settlements and strategic extensions
Scenario 6: Spokes and hubs with a continued focus on Oxford and key corridors into Oxford
Scenario 7: 'String' settlement/ settlement cluster with development focused on a number of linked settlements.
These typologies were further refined following public consultation to inform the following set of eight potential alternatives for the spatial distribution of growth for consideration through the Sustainability Appraisal of the Oxfordshire Plan.
Spatial Alternatives, July 2020
Intensification in existing towns and cities: Increase density of existing and planned settlements, prioritise brownfield sites.
Intensification of housing development around strategic economic assets: Co-location of uses to meet business and research park needs.
Public transport 'Wheel' (transport-led): Concentrate development around areas of good public transport connectivity.
Rail 'String' (transport-led): Locate string of settlements along new/upgraded rail corridors (e.g. Cowley line).
OxCam 'String' (transport-led): New development along route of OxCam Expressway, once the route has been decided, consistent with NIC Growth Deal aspirations.
Strategic road junctions: Concentrate development around strategic road junctions.
Proportionate dispersed growth between existing settlements (needs-led):Oxford, towns and villages.
New settlements with new strategic transport connections.
Protect environmental assets (environment-led): Identify environmental constraints first (eg. strategic green and blue infrastructure, historic environment, flooding, AONB and other sensitive landscapes, best and most versatile agricultural land etc, possibly through natural capital mapping), then place housing and employment where they avoid significant impacts and enable enhancements.
Source: Oxfordshire Plan 2050, Sustainability Appraisal – Alternatives, LUC in association with Levett-Therivel Sustainability Consultants, July 2020
Alternatives 5 & 6 which would focus development on roads (the Oxford-Cambridge expressway for Alternative 5 and existing road junctions for Alternative 6) were the least sustainable alternatives of the nine considered through the Sustainability Appraisal. The expressway was formally cancelled by Government on 18 March 2021 after analysis showed that the proposed project would not be cost-effective, with any benefits outweighed by the costs.
Alternative 5 is no longer considered 'reasonable' and it has been discounted from further consideration.
Alternative 6 was assessed as having significant negative effects across a range of SA objectives, including health, reliance on the car, climate change, pollution, soils and efficient use of land, biodiversity and geodiversity and landscape. This alternative is also not considered 'reasonable' and none of the spatial options put forward at this stage focuses development on roads.
Alternative 8 (new settlements with new strategic transport connections) was assessed as having a mix of positive and negative effects, depending on the scale of new settlements, their location and the type of strategic transport connections created. New settlements have not been taken forward as a separate strategic spatial option in the Plan; rather a new settlement (or settlements) is considered as a spatial typology that could potentially help deliver several of the strategic options set out in this document.
The level of ‘committed growth’
As noted in the section on housing, the OGNA was commissioned because we recognised at the outset that in order for the Oxfordshire Plan to be robust, we would require a different approach to assessing Oxfordshire's long-term growth needs. The commissioning brief for the OGNA recorded:
‘National planning policy requires an assessment of Local Housing Need based on a standard methodology as set out in the PPG. However, there are limitations and uncertainties in applying a methodology over such a long timescale when it has been designed on the basis of 10 to 15-year local plans. For example, forecasting affordable housing need is particularly sensitive to market and pricing fluctuations so it is challenging to forecast over a long timescale to 2050.
As such the city/district councils are commissioning this assessment to provide bespoke analysis of the growth needs for Oxfordshire to supplement the Standard Methodology, to inform the preparation of the Oxfordshire Plan and which is capable of satisfying the soundness requirements for Examination.
The aim of this study is to identify numerical scenarios for sustainable housing and economic growth needs in Oxfordshire over the period 2020-2050 based on consideration of key drivers including the housing market, demography and the economy. Taken together, the scenarios will provide a tool that policy-makers can use when developing policies for the Oxfordshire Plan.’
The OGNA ranges appear in the emerging Oxfordshire Plan at the Regulation 18 stage as the scale of future growth that the Plan has to consider up to 2050 is a fundamental part of the what the Plan is being created to do. At the Regulation 19 stage (the next stage), the Plan will set the broad areas of growth, with policies that will apply to 2050 and the monitoring and infrastructure elements. But the plan also draws on the Growth Board Strategic Vision that has been adopted by each Council and a series of Objectives that have led to a series of Themes for grouping proposed policies.
The Oxfordshire Plan and the Growth Board's Strategic Vision include an agreed broadly-based definition of 'good growth'. This is important as rather than seeing economic, social and environmental objectives as competing demands that need to be balanced or prioritised, our approach is to align and integrate all our priorities.
But in testing the OGNA ranges, we need to consider what the Plan is trying to achieve as whole (including for example, on Climate Change and Environmental quality). We also need to consider the level of growth set out in the adopted local plans for Oxfordshire which runs into the time period of the Oxfordshire Plan.
As noted in the earlier plan section (Homes: How many? Commitments and locations) Oxfordshire has five adopted local plans with committed growth running from 2020 (the starting date for the Oxfordshire Plan) onwards and in 3 of the Districts there are strategic sites that will continue to be built out beyond the end of the local plan period which the Oxfordshire Plan needs to take into account too.
This committed growth (taken from local plan trajectories, based on allocated sites) has to be taken into account. The OGNA figure minus committed growth leaves a 'residual' figure.
The decision on where on the range the figure for Oxfordshire should sit cannot be taken at this stage (Regulation 18 Part 2). This decision is to be informed by the outcome of the evaluation and evidence in the next phase of plan-making.
For the local planning authorities to take that decision in due course, it is recognised that there must be an appropriate set of spatial options that have been consulted upon (the Regulation 18 Part 2 consultation undertakes this) and then have undertaken further technical testing and an assessment of different site proposals that have been sent to us for consideration, a process that includes a consideration of the Plan's Vision, its objectives and the five policy themes of the Plan (Climate Change, Environmental quality etc).
This process of evaluation will be undertaken early in the period between Regulation 18 Part 2 and Regulation 19, the next consultation stage (due to be undertaken in May 2022). This Regulation 18 Part 2 Plan contains a section setting out how the Plan is to proceed from Regulation 18 to Regulation 19 through this process of evaluation.
The spatial strategy options also take account of the locations of growth from the adopted local plans.