CAMPAIGNERS are thrilled that an area of outstanding natural beauty in West Oxfordshire may escape being developed.

Planning inspector Malcolm Rivett is examining West Oxfordshire District Council’s local plan, which outlines proposals to build 16,000 homes in the district by 2031.

Returning some interim findings on Tuesday, Mr Rivett said the 439 homes which had been earmarked for the Burford-Charlbury area, which forms part of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, do not need to be built.

After a brief analysis of the various factors, Mr Rivett stated: “These dwellings are unlikely to be necessary to ensure that district-wide housing needs are met.

“Moreover, in the absence of a specific housing need figure for the sub-area, it is not possible to identify that they are, as a matter of principle, necessary specifically in the context of the AONB or the Burford-Charlbury area.”

Mr Rivett said if this change, and a few other previously discussed modifications, were made, it was likely to make the plan capable of being found legally-compliant and sound.

Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Oxfordshire director Helen Marshall was pleased to see the inspector had moved to protect the AONB.

She said: “We are delighted that the inspector has ruled out the strategic allocations in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

“He found that the council had failed to produce any substantive evidence of local need, which is what CPRE and other campaigners have argued all along.

“A recent CPRE report on AONBs found that the Cotswolds topped the list in terms of pressure from housing development, with little consideration being given to the cumulative impacts. We are therefore pleased that, for now at least, these sites are withdrawn.

“However, we fear that it will not be long before developers are trying again via direct planning applications.”

A total of 15,950 homes are set to be built in west Oxfordshire by 2031 as part of its local plan.

The first local plan was thrown out in 2015 for not meeting housing need and the version being examined now contains an extra 5,000 homes on the previous document.

Areas for development include Witney, Eynsham, Chipping Norton and Woodstock.

Making the shift from 10,500 to 15,950 homes meant that the total in a number of earmarked developments had to be significantly increased, including a site to the north of Witney which changed from 1,000 to 1,400 homes.

Also, of the new additions, 2,750 are to make up the district’s contribution to Oxford’s unmet housing need.

Much of this will be dealt with by the council’s garden village proposal near Eynsham.

In January the Government announced it was backing the garden village project.

A further 1,000 homes are proposed for land to the west of Eynsham in the plan, leading campaigners in the area to complain the proposals are simply too much for the village to bear.

Mr Rivett concluded his interim findings by saying once the suggested modifications are made the plan will be able to go out to public consultation as ‘soon as possible’.