An update from County Councillor Charles Mathew, who is a member of OCC's Cabinet Advisory Group on Minerals.
Oxfordshire County Council's strategy, last approved in 1996, has been under review since 2010. A draft Core Strategy for the period to 2030 was rejected by the Government Inspector because it contradicted other policies. The second draft - still focused on West Oxfordshire! - went along with SEEDA’s requirement for 2.3 million tonnes of sharp sand and gravel from the county, though actual production was under 1.0 million tonnes. This draft was withdrawn in July, when the Inspector made clear that he was unhappy with its failure to consider the 800 consultation responses, the ‘duty to cooperate’ with neighbours and the new planning laws (NPPF) - as well as several textual idiosyncrasies and lack of logical conclusions.
All of which I had been highlighting at every opportunity for some time ...
A third draft is emerging and consultation will begin in March 2014. The changes are:
Bit by bit, the average production figure has been cut to a rolling 811,000 tonnes per annum - a potential saving of some 10 million tonnes of virgin gravel in the fifteen years to 2030.
Production will be based closer to area of need. North and south of the Thames will be equalised, so Didcot, Grove and Harwell will be served by local excavation and Bicester, Carterton and Oxford by West Oxfordshire.
The text is being checked for inconsistencies; and a trust fund for local projects is being set up to compensate affected communities.
In short, the battle is not over but the omens point to a far more just and satisfactory outcome, for Oxfordshire in general and the residents of the Lower Windrush and Evenlode valleys in particular.
While acknowledging the need for primary and secondary gravel for the county's economic prosperity, I will continue the fight to ensure that where excavation does take place, it is necessary.