More about the process:

Public inquiry and planning application

Overview of the planning at Didcot West

Campaign groups

The future:

10,000+ new homes for Didcot’s countryside

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Oxfordshire Structure Plan and Examination in Public

1998
Oxfordshire County Council’s (OCC) Structure Plan specified that 5,500 new homes should be built mainly to the north-east of Didcot. OCC knew it was unusual to be so specific about the site as the Structure Plan should set out broad policies only.

1999
There was much discussion in the local paper about the Fordham report. The Vale of White Horse District Council leader described it as concerned with planning gain. Stating “it deals with the question of what it would be reasonable to ask potential developers to pay in terms of infrastructure (eg schools) in return for planning permission.” A local parish council claimed that the report concluded “from the planning gain point of view a Western option is substantially preferable to a Northern one”.

In the run up to Christmas, there was an Examination in Public (EIP) into the choice of site for new housing at Didcot. It concluded that  “whilst the western options have advantages in terms of accessibility and integration, we conclude that these are outweighed by the need to protect best and most versatile agricultural land and that the main sustainable direction of growth for Didcot is to the north-east.”

2000 
On 22 March, Oxfordshire County Council’s Environment Committee, resolved “that the recommendation of the EIP Panel be not accepted... dwellings planned for Didcot to be located mainly to the west of the town.”

The Vale of White Horse District Council (within whose boundaries some of the site west of Didcot is located) commented that the decision had been a shock, a complete reversal. Whilst the Didcot Herald reported “… following two hours of tense debate... the Conservative county councillor for Dorchester, Mr Roy Tudor-Hughes, proposed throwing out the findings of the Government panel.”

Roy Tudor-Hughes represented 10 villages of the 13 Parishes in a campaign group that opposed expansion to the north-east. He wrote to encourage the OCC Conservative Group not to have the decision referred back to the Environment Committee. Explaining that he thought development should be to the west of Didcot to take advantage of the A4130 and A34 and discourage people driving routes through the villages he represented en-route to Oxford. He also said that the best and most versatile land to the west hadn’t been farmed for years. He was mistaken - it was farmed and continued to be right up until the developers took over in 2011.

However, the decision was referred back to the Environment Committee. The Director of Environmental Services said “My strong advice is …for the Committee to recommend Council accept the Panel’s recommendations...” But again the advice was rejected. The County described the Didcot decision to its councillors as “possibly the most contentious issue which the County Council has had to face as Structure Plan authority.”

RPS, representatives for the prospective developers of Didcot West, wrote to County Councillors, speculating that Government planning advice on protection of agricultural land would soon change. It didn’t.

The text in blue below is taken from Oxfordshire County Council’s Environmental Committee agenda, discussing again the decision to build west of Didcot in December 2000. It was written by the Director of Environmental Services.

Responses to the decision
…the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food - objects... it would result in the development of a significant area of best and most versatile agricultural land when there is a clear alternative. 

Government Office for the South East (GOSE) have also objected ... concerned that the policy will be seen to advocate use of greenfield sites in the absence of full urban capacity study.

South Oxfordshire District Council strongly supports.

Vale of White Horse District Council strongly objects. It is hard to see how Government policy could be upheld elsewhere if the decision prevails.

Didcot Town Council - objects to the proposed modifications, and reaffirms previous view that a full public inquiry be called.

Uffington Parish Council - Appalled that OCC is ignoring the independent Panel’s report

DPDS Consulting Group for North Didcot Landowners... it is illogical and against the evidence; it renders participation in the plan making process worthless.

Bryant Homes and many others have participated in the alteration process with the expectation that the EIP Panel recommendation, Government guidance and the adopted Development Plan would be significant factors. The modification departs from all three... the interests of objectors will have been unfairly prejudiced, which would give rise to a legal challenge, including under the Human Rights Act.

Taylor Woodrow (developer of the western site) subsequently acquired Bryant Homes in January 2001 - Bryant’s legal challenge evaporated.

The prospective developers to the west said the “Proposed bridge will provide direct route to employment areas.” The proposed bridge was then abandoned. The travel distances to employment were much discussed at the EIP and these distances were based on the bridge being built.

The public response
Just over 1,500 representations were received... 1,037 objected... 410 supported.

There is disagreement with the County Council’s reasons for rejecting the EIP Panel’s recommendations... In particular people disagree that the west will have better prospects for integration with the existing town ... by comparison, the alternative of development to the north-east, is seen as having potential benefits in terms of providing improved infrastructure and services for Ladygrove [such as a secondary school]

Selection of quoted responses:
“If OCC have strong arguments in favour of the western option, it should re-open the EIP.”
“Do not want any more houses in Didcot.”
“...better to utilise brownfield areas in most UK towns and cities than on greenfield sites.”
“OCC should focus on fighting Government plans...”
“Development of Didcot should not be decided by developers and committees who are not residents of Didcot.”
“Building an enormous sprawl as a dormitory for strangers will not benefit Didcot or the area.”
“Whichever direction... could we have more open discussion and consultation?”
“Inquiry should be held into councillors’ motives for voting west.”

What was known about the Archaeology in 2000?
... new information about archaeology ... A hoard of 126 Roman coins had been found in 1995 ... which could indicate the existence of an important archaeological site... an archaeological field evaluation of the area around the location of the gold hoard has been carried out by RPS consultants (the prospective developers’ agent) ... [it] demonstrates a mainly Romano-British rural settlement... the County Archaeologist considers the remains to be of local to regional importance... the discovery reinforces the likelihood that other archaeological sites exist…

An objector felt “It is vandalism to destroy a site of archaeological value.”

2001
Oxfordshire County Council accepted its Environment Committee’s decision. Supporting development to the west were: 12 out of 21 LibDem , 20 out of 27 Conservative, 2 out of 20 Labour councillors. Lawyers for prospective developers of the northern site asked the then deputy prime minister, John Prescott, to call in the plan. The decision became subject to legal challenges, but these were later withdrawn.

Many letters with many allegations were written. The representative for the prospective Didcot West developers’ was also a Conservative town councillor in Wallingford. He had had an earlier application for development at the Didcot West site refused in 1981.

In March 2001 the County Council made a statement of decisions and reasons: The County Council attaches great importance to achieving development which is more sustainable, and reducing dependence on the private car... The development at Didcot will be the most significant single housing strategy in the Structure Plan, and it is important that the best opportunities are provided for creating a well planned and integrated extension to the town with best prospects of encouraging use of sustainable modes of transport.

Later the inspector Local Plan inquiry reflected: “It seems to us that there has been an unfortunate conflict here between the understandable concerns of the local people regarding their ability to have some influence in the planning process and the constraints which the present development plan system places on local planning authorities”

The proposal then carried forward to the SODC and VOWHDC Local Plans. Click here to find out more.
 






Sources:
Roy Tudor-Hughes, letter to all Members of OCC Conservative Group.
18/12/01 Oxfordshire County Council’s (OCC) Environmental Committee, agenda written by the Director of Environmental ServicesLocal%20Plans.htmlshapeimage_2_link_0
I wish to clarify the offer made by my clients to support Oxfordshire County Council in the event of a legal challenge… My client’s wish is only to ensure that councillors in the making of a decision properly on the basis of planning judgement by the thought that they could be incurring the council prohibitive costs defending a legal challenge…We are confident that any challenge to such a decision would be bound to fail and that the costs would certainly be awarded in favour of the council.
Nigel Moor, Planning Director, RPS Consultants writing in the Didcot Herald 8 June 2000