OXFORDSHIRE has just weeks to come up with ideas for entirely new towns - and it could mean as many as 300,000 more homes across the county.

Councils have already accepted a 'down payment' of £215m to build another 100,000 homes by 2031 – but now the Government wants them to agree to what could be more than double that.

It has emerged Kit Malthouse, the new housing minister, wrote to all Oxfordshire councils last month asking for ‘ambitious proposals…including new settlements’ which could ramp up population growth between Oxford and Cambridge.

A residents’ group said it has already ‘deep concerns’, but the Government wants one million new homes built between the country’s premier university cities before 2050 and Oxfordshire will need to chip in.

WHERE MIGHT THEY GO?

  • Any new developments submitted could include Harrington, right, a new town off the M40. That would include 6,500 homes – but Bellway Homes and Pye Homes said it would be more than ‘just another urban extension’.
  • It said it would be a ‘brand new community, with the required major infrastructure projects, including primary schools, a secondary school, a doctors surgery, shops, cafes and employment space.’ 
  • Another 3,000 homes could be built at Chalgrove Airfield. Homes England is keen to build there but its current tenants, ejector seat maker Martin-Baker, said it will resist any attempt to move it.
  • Further £300m funding for the Didcot Garden Town and Eynsham Garden Village was promised by the Government in March. The garden town will boost Didcot’s population by about 15,000 by 2031.

Garden towns typically have more than 10,000 homes; garden villages have between 1,500 and 10,000 homes. 

Banbury Cake: The map of Didcot Garden Town masterplan.

The plan for Didcot Garden Town 

Peter Rutt, from the Expressway Action Group, said: “We strongly support affordable housing – and the existing Local Plans already include 100,000 new homes by 2031.

Banbury Cake:

"However, the minister’s letter quotes an ambition for one million more homes by 2050 and that implies another 200,000 to 300,000 homes in Oxfordshire.

“Surely Government can’t expect plans of this scale to emerge in six weeks? EAG believes Oxfordshire’s councillors, voters and residents must have their say before any new towns are imposed on them.”

All the proposals would need to be led by the councils, although universities, colleges, landowners and businesses could also be involved.

It is part of ‘swift action’ to improve the affordability of homes in the region, Mr Malthouse said.

The likelihood is any new developments could hinge on the route of the potential Oxford-Cambridge expressway.

Highways England is expected to announce which corridor – of a possible three – has been picked later this summer.

Mr Malthouse has asked that councils’ preliminary ideas are submitted by September 14.

When Oxfordshire council leaders signed up to the £215m Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal in March, they agreed to produce a joint statutory spatial plan (JSSP).

That will produce housing plans that would ensure any development is sustainable and helps them to meet the county’s housing and transport requirements.

Michael Tyce, from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said he was surprised about the proposal to build more homes – even though recent population figures suggest demand will be less than previously expected.

Mr Tyce said: “Nothing is ever clear with the Government but it might be an additional 200,000 or 300,000. The way it’s phrased seems to suggest it’s 300,000 [extra].

“It’s really interesting. To accommodate the houses the councils are intending to do the JSSP. That’s a really a good thing and we support that.

“But that’s not scheduled to start until September and it would take at least three years if it’s done properly.

"And now [Oxfordshire councils get] this letter from Kit Malthouse who must be asking that [councils] reach their conclusion before they’ve done the work.”

Expected population figures for Oxfordshire in future decades have dipped from an estimate four years ago.

It had been thought there would be 838,000 people here by 2031 but the Office for National Statistics reduced that to 713,000.

Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth said: "All of the districts and city will have their Local Plans in place to 2031 as part of the JSSP, however this gives us an opportunity to plan for the longer term towards 2050.

"The key to any conversation will be ‘is this an extension to the Growth Deal [currently only 5 years] or will it be Growth Deal 2? "And what sort of infrastructure would the government provide so that we could potentially deliver additional homes?

“At this stage it’s only an expression of interest”

James Mills, West Oxfordshire District Council’s leader, said he was keen to make his district more affordable if possible.

He said: “West Oxfordshire has a buoyant economy and is home to many fast-growing and world-leading companies, but affordable housing is an issue, which is why we are working to ensure that sufficient homes are provided.”