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Oxford could become town council under latest unitary plan

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Oxford City Council would be replaced by a town council under revised plans to create a single unitary for Oxfordshire.

A plan published jointly today by Oxfordshire CC and Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire DCs also proposes the creation of 15-20 executive boards across the county, including in the city area, which would have powers over policy areas such as highways, parking and health and wellbeing.

The new unitary would be responsible for social care, education, transport, housing, planning, transport and environmental health services.

A ‘city convention’ for Oxford made up of the city council, parishes, health organisations and academic institutions would be established to examine potential models for the city’s new council “that reflects its historic, political and cultural make-up”, the plan said.

The proposal says the new council would have powers to raise a “substantial” council tax precept and manage community assets and services, as well as address “social and environmental issues”.

The council could also take its own approach on the “optimum” service delivery models, “subject to appropriate funding decisions”, which could potentially include a “direct labour organisation” for the city.

Oxford City Council has previously strongly opposed the creation of a single county-wide unitary.

Under the proposal new planning committees would be established to cover the existing district areas in order to implement existing local plans, which the communities secretary would be asked to enshrine in secondary legislation. Once the plans have run their course reponsibility for local plans would go to the unitary.

Vale of White Horse leader Matthew Barber (Con) told LGC the proposed model would improve community representation in Oxford.

He said: “At the moment everywhere else in Oxfordshire has parish councils.

“People in Oxford are under-represented because they only have four parishes on the outskirts of the city - we would create something that fills that gap.”

Cllr Barber said ownership of the housing stock in Oxford transfering to the new unitary would enable the new council to borrow and build council houses across the county. None of the other districts have council housing stock.

He added: “There was a fear that the new unitary would sell off all the city’s council housing, but that would be retained to enable us to borrow – it provides an opportunity for everybody else.”

The executive area boards, which would be made up of unitary councillors for that area, would be formally consulted as part of the new council’s budget, policy and service development.

The number of boards has increased from the five proposed by the county council’s original single unitary proposal published in January.

A public survey last month found that overall 70% of people supported the creation of a single county unitary, with 69% in favour in Oxford.

Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth said “We have responded to issues raised during the nine month public engagement exercise in the new proposal, particularly in improving local involvement in Oxford.

“There is an opportunity to create a new local government for Oxford that reflects the city’s economic and cultural importance to the whole county.”

“The survey results show that despite the noisy opposition whipped up by opponents of change, there is a silent majority who support the idea of new council for a better Oxfordshire.”

Oxford City Council has been approached for comment.

  • 3 Comments

Readers' comments (3)

  • This is a ridiculous notion. There is no advantage to be gained by the unitary proposals. The creation of area executives effectively recreates the work of District Councils. The One Oxfordshire survey was carried out in the best traditions of Sir Humphrey Appleby and designed to give the preferred answer. It has to quote Cllr. Barry Wood more holes than the County's roads!

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  • So the rural councils sold off their council housing and used the money or sat on it now see the city's housing stock as something to be asset stripped and mortgaged. They think city residents should be taxed to provide services of a unitary council and then double tax to undertake the same work in the city. The County have worked on this for two years and the best they can come up with is a further commission to study options for the city. They cannot apply to the Secretary of State for a unitary with their best idea being a further study. They have just proved why a unitary oxfordshire does not work, it's effectively unitary outside the city and and two tier within. A dogs breakfast.

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  • I live in Oxfordshire and want to know what survey showed 70% are in favour of a single unitary.....poppycock.....no one I know locally thinks so!

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