City communities look to take control of their fate

John Bleach at Port Meadow

John Bleach at Port Meadow

First published in News thisisoxfordshire: Photograph of the Author by , Council Reporter, also covering Oxford city centre. Call me on 01865 425429

TWO communities hoping to take control of development in their part of Oxford are preparing to take the next step.

Residents in Summertown and St Margarets, and Wolvercote, are set to be formally designated as neighbourhood forums by Oxford City Council next week.

This means that they can now draw up their own neighbourhood plans which – if approved by a local referendum – will form part of the city council’s legally binding planning policy.

John Bleach, chairman of the Wolvercote neighbourhood forum steering group, said: “That the city council would legally recognise us gives us some encouragement, but that is a very small part of it.

“The next hurdle is producing the plan itself and we have been working on it for some time. I would say we are at least a couple of years away from our referendum.”

Development issues in Wolvercote include a 200-home plan for the former paper mill site and the city council’s Northern Gateway business park scheme.

Meanwhile, in Summertown, residents are concerned about the development of the Diamond Place car park.

The Localism Act 2011 introduced new rights and powers allowing communities to get directly involved in planning in their area.

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A neighbourhood plan – drawn up by local people – could influence where houses or shops can be built and what they look like, but first it would have to go through a public consultation as well as a local referendum to become a reality.

Summertown and St Margarets – which are drawing up a combined plan – and Wolvercote could become the first areas in Oxford to have such a plan.

However, Thame in South Oxfordshire became the first in the county when the town’s plan was approved at a referendum in May.

The city executive board will formally decide on Wednesday whether the two areas should be designated as neighbourhood forums.

City council planning officer Sarah Harrison said both applications met the legal requirements.

She said: “Each is established for the purpose of promoting or improving the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of the area; has an open membership; includes more than 21 members (ward councillors having all been involved) and has a written constitution.”

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