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The Labour land grab
Updated 2:48pm Tuesday 19th November 2013 in By Freddie Whittaker
EXTRA powers to help Oxford build homes outside its city boundaries could be on the cards if Labour win in 2015, shadow housing minister Emma Reynolds has claimed.
But she refused to be drawn on whether or not her party would force other councils to give up land – like fields south of Grenoble Road at the centre of a housing row – so Oxford could expand.
The Labour MP for Wolverhampton North East said her party wanted to build 200,000 homes a year if it wins in 2015. And she said average house prices of £400,000 in the city and a lack of land made it a “perfect example” of what her party wanted to do.
She said housing shortages in cities like Oxford, where there are few areas available for development, would be dealt with by extra powers enabling urban areas to expand.
But the plans have been dismissed by critics.
Oxford remains locked in a stalemate with neighbours South Oxfordshire District Council over whether or not homes should be built south of Grenoble Road, on the edge of the city.
Tory SODC leader Ann Ducker, who remains opposed to development in the area, dismissed the suggestion that Oxford might be given more powers to expand as “undemocratic”.
But the shadow minister said: “We want to strengthen the hands of these local authorities, which want to build houses but are constrained by a shortage of land.
“In terms of the mechanics of that, I can’t give an answer at this stage.
“We are talking about powers to allow local authorities to ratchet up the fees on developers who have planning permission but aren’t building, and we want to go further than that and look in particular about problems around right to grow.”
She said Oxford was a “perfect example” of a city where the council’s housebuilding ambitions were hampered by a shortage of land, and would be among the cities to benefit from new powers.
She said: “(Oxford) has identified great housing need in the city, but there is simply not enough land for them to build the properties the city needs, and, as a result, rents are high and the average house price is £400,000.
“We have commissioned Sir Michael Lyons (a former chairman of the BBC Trust) to carry out a review of housing, and he will be looking at issues around how neighbouring councils work together.
“What we want to be able to do is empower local authorities to be able to build outwards.”
Mrs Ducker said: “I don’t think it’s very democratic. I think we already have the powers we need and a duty to co-operate, and I think every district council I know is co-operating.
“To simply say they are going to be allowed to extend their boundaries doesn’t sound like it is something which has been thought through.
“I don’t think anyone would be happy if any city had the power to move its boundaries. It would be never-ending. How far would they go?”
Labour city council deputy leader Ed Turner welcomed the news, and said action was needed to prevent Oxford’s housing crisis from getting worse.
He said: “We know there is a housing crisis in Oxford and this is strangling the city’s economy.
“We know from numerous examinations that we cannot meet the housing need within Oxford’s boundaries, and one way or another there needs to be a solution.
“We were delighted when Ed Miliband announced the right to grow for cities like Oxford and we will obviously have to look at it and respond based on the sensitivities of our situation.”
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