County is spaced out

Pressure to build on Oxfordshire's countryside has been highlighted by new figures showing a shortage of sites for new homes.

The Government identified 779 hectares of previously developed brownfield' land across the county which may be suitable for housing.

If developed at a density of 39 dwellings per hectare - the average for the South East - the land would yield 30,000 homes.

But this falls well short of the development - well over a third - that experts say is needed to give first-time buyers a chance to own their own homes. The figures reopen the debate over Oxford City Council's position of wanting to build new homes on Green Belt land off Grenoble Road.

John Goddard, leader of the city council, speaking on holiday from southern Italy, said: "There needs to be a thorough review of the Green Belt and that should be done as part of the examination-in-public of the South East, which will take place next year.

investing in land

"There is already a shortage of housing for people living in the city and these latest figures simply confirm those pressures.

"There are members of my own family who can't afford to live in Oxford, so they travel into work from outside the city, and that clogs up the roads. There is a shortage of housing for people living in the city now, never mind the next 20 years."

The South East England Regional Assembly (Seera), which is in charge of development in the region, has called on Oxfordshire to provide as many as 47,000 new homes over the next 20 years to tackle the acute housing shortage.

It means that unless brownfield sites for an additional 17,000 homes can be identified, local councils will be forced to build on previously undeveloped land. Of the county's five district and city authorities, only Cherwell contains enough brownfield land to build the number of homes (11,800) which Seera has earmarked for it.

The brownfield figures, published by the Department for Communities and Local Government, provide the most detailed picture yet of the challenge facing planners.

They will also give further ammunition to opponents of Seera's provisional house building targets, which face scrutiny by a panel of inspectors later this year.

Ed Vaizey, Conservative MP for Wantage, said: "I have always been opposed to the additional housing proposals for Grove and Didcot as far too high in terms of infrastructure and the existing size of the towns. These figures show they will prove far too high a housing burden on our area."

While Seera and the Government are confident that more brownfield land will become available every year, the figures suggest pressure to build on undeveloped greenfield land is almost certain to mount., 02.09.2006

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