NHS PlansDespite local opposition the Local Plan for Oxford, approved in 2005, allowed for some development on Warneford Meadow as the NHS argued that they would need to develop the Warneford Hospital further.
However within two years the NHS decided that they no longer needed any development on the Meadow but, rather than let things be, in October 2006 they submitted proposals to seek outline planning permission to sell Warneford Meadow for development. These proposals were part of a wider submission covering three sites; the Meadow, Warneford playing fields and the Park Hospital.
FOWM suspect that these proposals were submitted following pressure from the NHS centrally to sell off unused NHS assets (see extract (doc, 52 K) from Hansard in Feb 2006). Whilst the local NHS claim that any money raised will be used to support local services there can be no guarantee that this will happen.
FOWM came into being to oppose development on the Meadow and the campaign helped ensure that 250 objections to the planning proposals were registered with the city planners. FOWM also played a significant role in persuading local residents associations to agree to oppose any development on the Meadow. As a result a group representing all the residents associations affected by the proposals drew up alternative proposals for the use of the three sites. The proposals demonstrated that all the accepted local development needs could be met on the other two sites with the Meadow remaining as it is. When the NHS proposals were discussed at Oxford's North East Area Committee (NEAC) the Councillors pointed out that the NHS proposals did not conform to the local plan. They also welcomed the residents proposals as providing a useful alternative. text to NEAC text to NEAC (pdf, 153 K)
Following the NEAC meeting the NHS, fearing defeat, withdrew their proposals from the Planning Committee due to consider them on January 31st. In February the NHS then had direct meetings with representatives of the residents associations and claimed to be studying their proposals. This was followed up on March 8th by a letter from the Chief Executive of the Mental Health Trust to residents representatives inviting residents to become members of the Trust if it achieves Foundation status. The letter added "For over a year now we have been in regular contact about the Trust's wish to sell of some of our surplus land in Headington, and personally, I have found this a valuable and educational process. As a Trust with over 60 sites, we need always to be aware of the effects of our activity on our neighbours, and how living alongside a large mental health Trust impacts on your daily lives."
FOWM hoped that this "educational process" would lead to some more constructive proposals from the Trust. However we considered it more likely that the NHS would attempt to force through their original proposal rather than listen to local residents. This is what happened and the original proposals were submitted to the SDCC at the end of April. This appears to have put the the planning officers in a difficult position. They asked Councillors to give consent to development in principle, with details finalised later, but Chief Planning Officer Michael Crofton-Briggs was forced to admit that "If this was a private developer I think officers fairly succinctly would have recommended to you that you refuse this application on the basis of insufficient information to be able to judge the impact of this proposal." Councillors declined to give consent in principle, indeed they refused to discuss the matter at all. Councillor John Goddard said: "I find the whole procedure bizarre and actually unhelpful. What we are asked to do today is add to the fug of misunderstanding of a whole range of incompatible options."
The Councillors unanimously agreed:
1. To decline to comment on the principle of development on the three sites
2. To advise the applicants to withdraw the applications.
3. For the Planning Officers to take account of the Oxford Local Plan and any new material changes since the plan's inception.
4. In the light of the above that the Planning Office advises the applicants to submit new applications.
The NHS then appealed to the Secretary of State and asked them to decide on their planning applications because the City Council declined to determine on them. In August the City Council met to decide whether they would have approved the plans had they discussed them. As the Oxford Mail reported the Council unanimously decided that they would have rejected the proposals. The Secretary of State is due to determine the planning applications in the week beginning Jan 4th, 2008. Oxford City Council is to be congratulated in sticking to it's principles, despite the legal costs involved, and why the local NHS is so determined to antagonise the local community and their elected representatives remains a mystery.
On Nov 16th the NHS suddenly announced that they were withdrawing their appeal against Oxford City Council. Their letter states:
Dear Residentsí Associations and Chairs,
I am writing to update you on progress regarding the future of the Warneford land planning process.
The Trust has used the time over the last few months to endeavour to find ways to resolve the current situation regarding the planning applications. The process of appeal has involved us in exploring the possibilities open to us within the local area plan, and has enabled us to think about the best way to progress our need for the land sale receipt balanced with the concerns of local residents and communities.
I very much believe we can now find a way forward which is acceptable without any further delay or cost.
We have taken the decision not to pursue the appeal against the Council for non-determination of our planning appeals, and I felt it important to share that decision with you immediately.
I would like to invite you all to another meeting over the next couple of weeks so we can share our current thinking with you and hear your views. Please could you reply to Jane Appleton and indicate any dates and times on which you would each be unavailable so we can endeavour to find something which is suitable for all. If you are unable to attend, please could you let us know who will be able to be there and represent your residents association.
Julie Waldron, Chief Executive OBMH NHS Trust
This climbdown is a major victory for local campaigners, and for FOWM which was originally set up to oppose these planning applications. Many people should be thanked for their efforts in helping to secure this climb down with special thanks going to the city councillors who, despite pressure from their own planning officials, powerful local interests, and the cost implications, have refused to back the planning applications.
What happens next? The letter from Julie Waldron says "I very much believe we can now find a way forward which is acceptable without any further delay or cost." We presume that this means that she has alternative plans which she thinks she can persuade the local community to back and which can then pass swiftly through the city planning procedures. We have to wait and see what these plans are but there is no way that FOWM will agree with any planning proposals that do not guarantee the long-term future of the Meadow whilst the Town Green application is being heard.
For details of proposed Key Worker housing and Warneford Meadow - see next section.