Draft Local Plan October 2012

SUSTAINABLE ECONOMIC GROWTH

Our economic objectives include:

CO8 Achieve sustainable economic growth which improves the balance between housing and local jobs, provides a diversity of local employment opportunities, removes potential barriers to investment and provides flexibility to adapt to changing economic needs.

CO9 Achieve a prosperous and sustainable tourism economy.

CO10 Promote safe, vibrant and prosperous town centres and resist proposals that would damage their vitality and viability or adversely affect measures to improve the centres.

CO11 Maintain or improve where possible the health and wellbeing of the District's residents through increased choice and quality of shopping, leisure, recreation, arts, cultural and community facilities.

CO12 Improve access to services and facilities without unacceptably impacting upon the character and resources of West Oxfordshire.

6.1 This section sets out how we will seek to meet our economic objectives particularly through our policies on the provision of land for business, the rural economy, tourism, community facilities and town centres.

6.2 West Oxfordshire has a successful local economy and is weathering the recession relatively well. Current available statistics indicate that there are about 56,000 workers and economic activity rates are high at 85%. Unemployment has increased in recent years but at 4% (modelled) remains at about half the national average.

6.3 There are about 49,000 jobs in the District with significant manufacturing, engineering, retail and tourism sectors. The area has particular specialisms including biomedical equipment manufacture, engineering and motorsport, with significant employers such as Owen Mumford, Siemens MR Magnet Technology, Abbot Diabetes Care and the Lotus and Caterham F1 Teams. The District also has a long history with military aerospace and today RAF Brize Norton is seeing continued investment as the UK's main strategic military air transport base and will employ up to 6,000 personnel.

6.4 The District's town centres are vibrant with vacancy rates much lower than national averages, but require continued investment to face off challenges in the future as shopping habits change and competition increases. The attractive environment of the District, including the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, River Thames and its tributaries, historic market towns and villages, and Blenheim Palace World Heritage Site are also significant economic assets for the visitor economy. Employment in agriculture provides fewer than 2% of jobs but remains an important sector economically and for landscape management.

6.5 Many businesses are located within or next to one of the larger towns and villages where the largest business sites are generally located but there is also a diversity of mainly smaller business sites and businesses in the rural area. 70% of businesses employ less than 5 workers. The formation of new businesses is steady but survival rates are strong.

6.6 The District is surrounded by strong and growing economic areas with better strategic transport links - notably Oxford, Swindon, Banbury, Bicester and Science Vale, an area of high technology science related business and research around Didcot and Abingdon. These areas attract significant numbers of workers from the District which leads to congestion on major roads - the Census 2001 identifying 18,000 out-commuting workers although 10,000 also commuted into the District. Up to date 2011 Census commuting data is yet to be released.

6.7 There are several challenges to delivering sustainable economic growth which need to be tackled. Traffic congestion within towns and major routes such as the A40 impacts on commuters and businesses alike. The availability of high speed broadband is critical to future economic success but there is likely to be a market failure in its delivery to rural areas which needs to be addressed. There is a continuing need for modern, good quality business premises and the amount of available business development land will need to be increased to meet longer term needs.

6.8 The skill base of the workforce is good but there is a shortage of workers with technical skills across the area and employers seek improved 'work readiness' from school leavers. Population projections indicate that our workforce is ageing and will increase to 2016 before declining slightly over the remainder of the plan period.

6.9 In accordance with national policy, we must plan for sustainable economic growth to meet the needs of business and address barriers to growth. To achieve our objectives the strategy is to:

  • Maintain a flexible supply of land for businesses in accessible locations adjacent to the main towns to support key industrial, manufacturing, and engineering sectors, the Oxford Bioscience Cluster, aviation businesses related to RAF Brize Norton and facilitate investment in the stock of business premises.
  • Address transport congestion in towns and on major routes - notably the A40. Although there are proposals to address traffic congestion in Witney addressing wider access issues including the A40 will not be a quick fix. We will continue to lobby for wider network improvements and investigate longer term options to improve access to Oxford along the A40 corridor.
  • Improve the availability of high speed broadband and mobile connectivity through working in partnership with providers and ensuring new development is 'broadband ready'.
  • Maintain a labour supply with appropriate skills and 'work readiness' with a level of housing which broadly maintains the labour supply at 2011 levels whilst continuing to monitor commuting levels and the impacts of changes to pension and retirement ages.
  • Invest in our town and village centres as the first choice for shopping and leisure development to reinforce their role, enhance their environments and manage car parking to ensure they remain accessible and attractive to shoppers and visitors.
  • Promote a successful visitor economy which benefits visitors and local communities alike whilst protecting and enhancing the attractive environment of the District - itself a key economic asset.
  • Support a vibrant rural economy through tackling broadband roll out, facilitating homeworking, small rural business premises and diversified farming and land based sectors.

6.10 The strategy provides potential for up to 10,000 jobs whilst broadly maintaining the labour supply at 2011 levels and as such provides significant potential to improve the balance of labour and jobs. This will need to continue to be monitored and meeting the objective of reduced commuting will be achieved through a combination of factors including supporting home working, improved broadband and rural business opportunities.

6.11 To fully deliver our economic objectives and strategy, the Council will continue to work in partnership, including with the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to ensure businesses have the support, skills, transport, ICT and other infrastructure they need to grow sustainably. The following policies set out our approach to land for business, the rural economy, tourism, town centres and community facilities. Other relevant issues are addressed in the housing, infrastructure and transport policies as well as the sub area strategies.