Option 5: Focus on supporting rural communities

Scope & Scale

This option covers rural Oxfordshire and focuses on the villages and areas between the villages.

It includes consideration of growth proposals beyond the areas supported through the current adopted local plans that might bring new investment and strengthen patronage in rural areas that is essential to support rural services (and improve access), improve access to education and shops etc. It could include new investment in the rural economy, new village clusters, as well as taking account of strong cross-boundary relationship with major settlements outside Oxfordshire, such as Swindon.

The scope for this option is to consider growth in rural settings away from the main service centres and top-tier settlements that will accommodate the current local plan-led growth up to the mid-2030s and a redirection of development to more rural parts of the county provided that suitable access to the public transport network and key services and facilities is possible.

The limits of the option are that we anticipate the SA and the other evidence that supports the Plan will show that there is a limit to the level of new growth that can be absorbed in each of the four rural Districts. We anticipate that limited rural growth will feature in the Regulation 19 Plan.

This option does include consideration of extending existing and allocated Garden Villages and establishing new settlements.

Justification

Many villages have an aging population and have lost their services. Limited growth could arrest that decline and strengthen their sustainability. The most widespread deprivation factor in Oxfordshire relates to barriers to housing and services.

Such inequalities are less prevalent within the main market towns and settlements that are planned to grow from the sites allocated in the adopted local plans. The main settlements have benefitted from investment in infrastructure and affordable housing over a number of years and although deprivation and inequalities exist within these communities, rural areas have in many cases become increasingly isolated, particularly with the removal of public transport services and restricted growth.

This option would seek to address existing issues of isolation and rural deprivation by redirecting growth away from main settlements to where it could best address such inequalities; this approach is being taken in the current South Oxfordshire Plan with the Berinsfield Garden Village.

Regard will be had to infrastructure delivery and how investment in infrastructure in the first phase of the Plan might facilitate further growth beyond and up to 2050.

While there are settlements that might be strengthened by limited growth to improve accessibility, housing choice and service, it is anticipated that only modest levels of growth would arise from this option due to constraints such as poor access and the limited capacity of rural roads.

It is likely that as farming practices and land stewardship continues to evolve, in response to climate change and policy changes around environmental stewardship, the process of farm diversification will lead to new innovations in the rural economy that will themselves support limited residential growth in rural areas.

It could involve support for new villages and modest growth at villages not faced by connectivity challenges. But a major dispersal of new growth across a wide range of villages would not be consistent with the Plan strategy as it is much harder to deliver strategic scale infrastructure and it is harder to deliver major change to meet net zero carbon ambitions.

A number of locations would also currently be in the Green Belt and therefore any removal of land from the Green Belt would be subject to identifying the exceptional circumstances for doing so.

Opportunities

Opportunities and sustainability gains to be secured where growth is considered include:

  • Addressing rural deprivation and inequalities by improving access to services, facilities, homes and jobs in rural areas
  • Maximising cross-boundary relationships
  • Reducing pressure on main settlements
  • Supporting the diversification of the rural economy
  • Securing '20 minutes neighbourhoods' and delivering net zero carbon growth
  • Extended walking and cycling provision including connections to regional routes.

Option 5 – Focus on supporting rural communities.

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