Yesterday's announcement by the Oxfordshire Growth Board that they would be strengthening collaboration and inclusive decision–making is a welcome one given its herculean task managing the delivery of 85,600 new jobs and 100,000 new homes in the county by 2031 as set out in the Strategic Economic Plan. To support them, they've recently received £215 million from the Government to help them deliver infrastructure – dependent on the delivery of all five authorities Local Plans and the Joint Strategy.
The announcement follows a wave of renewal sweeping across southern Oxfordshire's councils with a changing of the guard at Oxford City Council, South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) and the Vale of White Horse.
In the second half of 2017, Cllr. Bob Price, then Leader of Oxford City Council announced he would stand down with his role of the last 12 years. The cudgels have been taken up by Cllr. Susan Brown, whose appointment was widely welcomed by all parties in the City. She appointed Linda Smith as her deputy, marking a welcome all–female senior leadership team.
Meanwhile in SODC, the Deputy Leader of the Council, Cllr. Jane Murphy, removed from her Cabinet role in February, has emerged as the replacement for John Cotton. Cllr Cotton had managed to steer the council's Local Plan (Reg 19) through his Cabinet but fell following its failure to get sign off in Full Council. Cllr Murphy had openly criticised the SODC Local Plan process claiming it had been “rushed through” and managed to marshal the support she needed to slow the process down.
Joining them as new members on the Growth Board will be the replacement for Cllr Matthew Barber at Vale of White Horse, the third leader to resign. Cllr Barber will be taking up a full time post as Deptuy Police Commissioner for the area. His replacement is set to be elected at the next Full Council meeting on Wednesday 16th May – watch this space for updates.
After years of councils at loggerheads over delivering the homes Oxford needs, the changes could see a breakthrough in relations. Councillors Brown and Murphy have already announced that they would like to work more collaboratively on ensuring that the 100,000 homes target is achieved and with Cllr. Brown taking the Chair of the Growth Board, before handing the chair to Cllr Murphy for the next rotation. We can only hope that the new leader of Vale of White Horse will also embrace the change.