Oxford City Council elections: Housing crisis discussed

Ariel view of Oxford
Image caption Space for new homes in Oxford is at a premium

If there is one thing all the main political parties in Oxford can agree on ahead of the council elections on 4 May it is that housing is the city's biggest problem.

There are more than 6,000 households on its social housing waiting list with no realistic prospect of anyone other than the most desperate getting housed.

Space in the city is limited and house prices high.

So how do the main parties plan to tackle the problem?

'Real challenge'

Councillor Joe McManners, who is the board member for housing needs on the Labour-run council, is clear - more housing needs to be built.

On that point there is almost unanimous agreement.

The group leader of the Greens in the city, David Williams, said: "The best way to approach solving the housing crisis in Oxford, I think, is not to have a right-to-buy and to build council houses."

Leader of the Liberal Democrat group, Stephen Brown, agreed that building more houses was the only way to solve the problem and yet he was under no illusions that it was going to be a difficult task.

"It's going to be the real challenge," he said. "But the housing numbers we are aspiring to build is too low."

Identifying suitable land in the city is one of the key challenges.

About 900 homes are currently planned to the west of the city's Barton estate and at least 40% of those will be affordable housing.

'Delicate balance'

Meanwhile green belt land at Grenoble Road has been coveted by developers since at least 2004. Back then the development of about 1,000 houses was stopped in its tracks by some 1,900 objections.

Mr Williams said: "We don't have to build on the green belt, we can solve the housing crisis without doing that."

Instead he favours reassessing the need for new jobs in the city.

He said: "I think there should be a balance between the need to create housing and jobs and the environment.

"We have some heritage to keep in Oxford which is very important to the character of the city."

Conservative control

But Dr McManners said Oxford was "constrained" by the green belt and that it was "strangling" the city.

He said: "We're limited by space in Oxford and also the amount of money we can get up front in order to build houses.

"It causes a huge amount of misery to people in Oxford."

He would like to see the green belt renegotiated as would Mr Brown from the Liberal Democrat group who added: "There should be a review, not to eliminate it but to examine in detail the quality of the land to see if some is suitable for housing."

But he stressed that if any land was taken away it should be compensated for in other areas, perhaps by bringing new green areas into the city.

Dr Thomas Kelly is standing for the Conservatives in Headington Hill and Northway. He is absolutely against any building on green belt land.

He said: "We have to balance the demands for housing against the risks of urban sprawl and the potential damage to the environment."

His solution is to ensure the current stock of council-owned buildings are all in use and none are left standing empty, but admits there is no easy solution.

He said: "I don't have a magic bullet but I do have a practical approach to solving the problem and that is to sit down with all the parties involved and work out a proper plan."

While the Conservatives have not held the reins of power on the city council since 1980, and their last councillor, Barbara Burgess, stood down in 2002, they still have a significant role to play in solving Oxford's housing crisis.

With unassailable majorities on all of the surrounding district councils they are essential negotiating partners with any administration that wants to build out of the city boundaries.

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