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End of Year Report, 2023 23 Dec 2023 From your three district councillors for Eynsham, Cassington and South Leigh

Budget

WODC is currently preparing the budget for 2024-25. The public consultation ran until 18 December and your views will be taken into consideration as the budget develops.

All local authorities are facing huge constraints, because demands on them are increasing rapidly with inflation and with additional demographic and operational issues. For instance, WODC has responsibility for homelessness; and the number of people presenting as homeless is increasing for reasons including rising costs of rents and mortgages. WODC has not been helped by previous administrations keeping council tax lower than it could have been, which while a good thing, reduced the amount of income it can raise now. The maximum WODC Council Tax increase will be less than the rate of inflation. Government has indicated that there will be below inflation increases in grants to local government.

WODC’s administration has been busy rectifying some of the problems caused by a long period of stagnation there. For instance, it has reduced the size of its office estate and is getting rental income from reusing the surplus building.

Local Plan

The new Local Plan is being developed by WODC. This is the masterplan for the whole district, which sets out how planning decisions will be taken, where new development might be appropriate and where it is not, etc.

The existing plan has a number of gaps: it omits insisting on carbon neutral new buildings, siting of solar farms, biodiversity gain, for instance. It was the document that committed the authority to unrealistic and unwelcome expansion in housing numbers, which led to a commitment to strategic sites around Eynsham such as Salt Cross. It was a recipe for failure actually to get houses built to the level set out in the plan, although in reality more property has been built in each year than the year before.

So the new plan has to be better. The first phase of public engagement has happened. That will help shape the new plan, which will then go out for more scrutiny by the public, and by parish councils, in 2024.

Planning matters

Planning is dictated by the Local Plan. For a period, as set out above, WODC could not demonstrate a 5-year land supply. That gave additional power to developers, including those who were not building on the areas allocated to them in the Local Plan. This is no longer the case.

There have been notable successes in rejecting unacceptable proposals, such as the plan for an anaerobic digester in Cogges.

There has also been success in getting the real situation with water reflected in planning matters. A site in Ducklington which floods had been classified by the Environment Agency as not flooding, so a developer won a planning application on appeal. The EA has, after much lobbying by WODC, accepted its mistake and updated its map. Thames Water have, again after a lot of hard work by officers and councillors, acknowledged that the sewage treatment works they run cannot cope with the existing demands or additional ones, and have agreed to WODC putting a “Grampian condition” into planning approvals, meaning houses can’t be occupied until the treatment works are upgraded.

We expect a response from the judicial review of the Salt Cross Area Action Plan early in 2024, and then expect an outline planning application to be put in by the developer. We would also expect planning applications for the West Eynsham development to come forward, in line with the developers’ masterplan.

Solar Farms

Botley West Solar Farm continues to loom as an issue. WODC will be responding to the Secretary of State as part of the planning process. This report will reflect the concerns about the environment, impact on residents and wildlife, and scale of the project that many residents have been discussing. WODC took the decision that joining an active campaign against Botley West would make this key report liable to be discounted by the Secretary of State. That means you won’t have seen cabinet members on marches and protests but you may well have seen councillors there, from many parties including ours, who aren’t in cabinet roles at either WODC or OCC.

Meantime, the built solar farm between Eynsham and South Leigh remains inoperative because of issues with connecting to the National Grid, etc. And the one with planning permission to the west of South Leigh remains unbuilt until SSE can give permission to connect to the National Grid in Witney.

Our National Grid needs investment. It isn’t getting it at the moment.

Executive roles

Carl Rylett has stepped down from being a Cabinet member in WODC, in order to focus on other things. Dan Levy left the role as Cabinet Member for Finance at WODC and now has the same role at the County Council.

Elections

The next WODC election is in May 2024. The seat held by Andy Goodwin is the one up for election.

The next County Council election is in May 2025 and the new County division, as set out in an Electoral Commission review this year, reflects the growing population. The Eynsham Division seat will be as at present, but with Yelford, Aston and Standlake leaving to be part of the new Carterton South and Bampton division.

A the next General Election, which has to be by January 2025, Eynsham, Cassington and South Leigh will all be in the new Bicester and Woodstock constituency. This looks to be an interesting and marginal constituency, with a similar profile to Eynsham and Cassington. The likely main challengers have announced their candidates, and they are big-hitters.

Please do encourage people to register to vote and to ensure that they have the ID now required at polling stations.

And Finally…

We wish all residents of the area a Merry Christmas and a successful New Year. We are all here to help, so please feel free to contact us. Much of our work goes on out of the public eye, helping individual residents with their issues.

Andy Goodwin: andy.goodwin@westoxon.gov.uk

Carl Rylett : carl.rylett@westoxon.gov.uk

Dan Levy: dan.levy@westoxon.gov.uk

Gallery

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