Oxfordshire and Devolution
The potential future of local administrative landscapes is changing shape at pace all over England. With the passing into law of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 in January this year the pace will only quicken.
Oxfordshire is not immune. Recent proposals from local authority leaders have suggested the abolition of Oxfordshire County Council and the creation of a combined authority. Such changes may also affect authorities outside of the traditional Oxfordshire authorities.
Oxfordshire County Council's functions could be divided between four new unitary authorities which current proposals suggest should comprise:
- Oxford City;
- South Oxfordshire (covering what is now Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire);
- West Oxfordshire - Cotswold (superseding West Oxford and Cotswold District Councils); and
- Cherwell - South Northants (covering Cherwell and South Northants Councils).
These unitary authorities would work in partnership with the other regional and national bodies such as the NHS and any local enterprise partnerships (LEPs).
We've seen this journey from two tier local government to unitary authority before promoted through the Local Government Act 1992. This was followed by a further tranche of unitary authorities in the late 2000s with the creation of Cornwall, Wiltshire and Northumberland among others. Whether the creation of these unitary authorities creates greater efficiencies is another question. Some would argue resources just get stretched more thinly and adversely affects the provision of services.
Devolution is now the most likely mechanism through which we will see the re-introduction of some form of regionally focussed planning policy. Following the eventual abolition of Regional Strategies which provided the basis of housing numbers and formed a key part of the statutory development plan the Government introduced LEPs and the duty to co-operate to fill the void.
However, the chasm left by Regional Strategies was and remains large. So, just like London has retained the London Plan, a regional strategy in all but name, and Mayoral influence so other regions are at various stages of that same journey.