Environmental Considerations

4.75 The SHMA takes no account of environmental constraints which is a critically important issue for West Oxfordshire and was a key factor in setting the South East Plan target of 365 homes per annum in the period 2006 - 2026.

4.76 It is highly relevant that 34% of the District falls within the Cotwolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) states that:

'Planning permission should be refused for major developments in these designated areas except in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated they are in the public interest'

4.77 The ability to deliver a very high housing target in a District that is one third AONB is obviously significantly reduced. Other important environmental considerations relevant to West Oxfordshire include:

  • Significant areas of flood risk (around 11% of the District falls within either Flood Zone 2 (medium risk) or Flood Zone 3 (high risk)
  • Significant parts of the south of the District fall within a defined Mineral Safeguarding Area (MSA)
  • Green Belt designation in the eastern part of the District (part of the Oxford Green Belt)
  • Numerous heritage assets including 16 parks and gardens, 3,200 listed buildings, 50 Conservation Areas and the Blenheim Palace World Heritage site
  • Numerous sites of nature conservation importance including SSSIs, local wildlife sites, ancient woodland and part of a European Special Area of Conservation (Oxford Meadows SAC)

4.78 Whilst such factors do not completely preclude development, they have a tangible impact on the ability to deliver a very large number of new homes in a sustainable manner.