A Most Extraordinary Day in the History of North Witney




If anyone, especially WODC development officers, needed a wakeup call on the nonsense known as the North Witney Strategic Development Area (NWSDA), then the confrontation between a King’s Counsel barrister and the agent for the North Witney land consortium on Tuesday January 9 this year laid bare assurances our council planners have maintained on why this flawed threat to Witney should be included in the 2031 Local Plan.


In 2017 the Local Plan Inspector was told by WODC officers during the plan’s examination that the land was all under the control of one consortium.


What we subsequently learnt at a planning appeal on January 9 was that not only was this not true, but even in the part of the site where the developers called themselves a consortium, there is, seven years after the Planning Inspector was told by WODC officers that they were speaking with one voice, no contracted agreement of equalisation between the individual developers.


One dictionary definition of a CONSORTIUM is “those who pool resources.”


The confrontation that exposed the reality came on the first day of a Planning Appeal by A2 Dominion to build 106 homes on land north of Witney Community School off Hailey Road. Why an Appeal? Because WODC maintain the land is part of the NWSDA and must be included in one Master Plan.


However, in an extraordinary clash under Interested Parties Statement the appellants’ counsel Rupert Warren KC exposed a house divided against itself when cross examining Tim Burley the Planning Director for Turley, the agents for the consortium. This revealed these facts from both sides:


  • The developers, A2 Dominion, had never been invited to join the SDA consortium.

  • Not only was there no engagement between the two parties but the appellant “ unfortunately proactively chose not to….and its clear they are severing themselves from the whole development..” (Burley).

  • The consortium’s agent admitted that the site had marginal viability and that if the site appeal was allowed it would risk the overall viability of the site.

  • The consortium’s agent said their Master Plan submission would include the appeal site but admitted there was no contracted agreement of equalisation between the landowners.

  • On the critical issue of shared infrastructure costs the consortium’s agent accused the appellant of fragmenting the contribution and pursuing an unfair allocation leading to viability remaining in the balance.


So, no engagement, no invitation, no contracted (legal) agreement, accusations and counter accusations of who is contributing to the yet unknown but deeply expensive infrastructure costs. Later we saw clashes over the location of roundabouts and the position of attenuation ponds.


All this seven years after WODC officers told the Planning Inspector they were talking to one group with one voice.


And, despite compelling evidence to the contrary, WODC’s development team still promote this flawed and damaging SDA. For as they told the appeal in Appendix 6 of their Proof of Evidence “it is an allocated site where the LPA very much wishes housing to come forward…”


But do they? Mr Burley in his devasting evidence exposing disharmony also claimed there was a difference of opinion between WODC’s development team and planners.


To support this observation you only have to turn to the robust response WODC’s Principal Planner wrote in the summer of 2023 when the consortium submitted their required Scoping Document. NWAG found that at last there was real interrogation and push back in the planning Department’s narrative. We acknowledged our thanks. You can read all this on the WODC web site and judge for yourself. (See 23/01512/FUL) although the NWAG’s response appears to have been redacted!





The total cost of the infrastructure to deliver this flawed development that threatens the future of Witney is unknown. It’s a bottomless pit and all the developers both know and fear it.


Let’s be absolutely clear. You can’t build the NWSDA unless you build the West End Link. The 2031 plan examining inspector said so. It’s enshrined in the 2031 Local Plan.


In his summing up at the January appeal, Alex Grieves, Counsel for WODC when addressing contributions to the infrastructure said “When considering these points, it is important to note that the financial contribution for the WEL, which is intended to be facilitated entirely by the NWSDA, represents by far the biggest single financial contribution that has been requested, at nearly £20,000 per dwelling….” (our bold type).


So, WODC has told a Government Planning Inspector in January 2024 that the developers will pay entirely for WEL. That cost, in 2020 was £28m and increasing by one million pounds each year. On top of that even if it was signed off today it would take five years and two months before it opened.


Add to that, on highways infrastructure alone, the favoured option in the Oxfordshire County Council’s (OCC) commissioned Bridge Street Appraisal Report, required as part of WEL , is a further £8.6m.


So, potentially the developers before they even start costing their commitment to stop Witney from flooding , drainage, ecology and the northern perimeter road are in for a commitment north of £40m.


But here’s the rub; the consortium say their Master Plan will not include WEL as it is not needed under OCC’s new traffic policy to prioritise walking, cycling and public transport.


During the round of public consultations in November 2023 a panel of consortium consultants told a meeting of Hailey Parish Council that removing WEL was nothing to do with cost but the new transport policy.


When asked, not one of these consultants said they had arrived by walking, cycling or public transport. Nor will the residents of 1,250 homes when they attempt to drive into Witney from this remote site, especially as it’s the furthest point from the Local Plan’s designated employment areas.





In a career that included being a journalist with the national press and the BBC and a decade as WODC’s independent chair of Standards, your chairman has never witnessed such revealing divisions as this planning appeal threw up.


This appeal , for less than 10% of the SDA, could have been viewed as a side show to the wider stage of the SDA. Two weeks later it had revealed a dog fight of accusations and counter accusations and a non-legal consortium who hadn’t even divvied up the cost.


Only one member of the public attended BUT your NWAG attended almost every minute of every day and recorded every detail of the devasting differences that WODC officers will not acknowledge.


It is an embarrassment that the residents of North Witney and the wider community threated by WODC officer’s ill thought through support for this site have had to endure this charade because no one at WODC significantly interrogated the feasibility, undertook revealing due diligence or considered the long term consequences to the residents of Witney.


NOW is the time for WODC, the elected councillors and the servant officers to put this right.



February 2024