A HISTORIC first will see West Oxfordshire councillors discuss the housing crisis in a debate triggered by a passionate community campaign.

Nearly 800 people added their name to a petition urging West Oxfordshire District Council to explore a real and sustainable solution to the problem of soaring house prices.

The campaign, which was launched in September, urges the council to invest its £12m of usable reserves into ‘proper affordable housing’.

After the unprecedented success of the petition, Luci Ashbourne, the Witney resident who started it, will formally present the document to council on February 28.

The accounts assistant, from Ashcombe Crescent, said she hoped the result would see more people engaging with local politics.

She said: “I think it’s really great. Even if we don’t get a decision made on anything it’s a way of letting councillors know the issues they should be looking at.

“One councillor said they were looking forward to debating it because it was something that had the backing of the community.

“It’s made me realise you don’t have to be in a position of power to have your voice heard and represent the community. I hope that it does inspire people and that we see more.”

Keith Butler, the head of democratic services at the council, said: “In line with our regulations, and subject to checking processes, any petition containing more than 750 signatures will be scheduled for debate at an overview and scrutiny committee.

“We had not received a petition with a sufficient number of signatures for debate since the regulations came in.”

The idea for the petition was borne from the frustration of Ms Ashbourne and others with regard to the cost of housing.

She said housing was becoming unaffordable to the vast majority of people and that an urgent solution was required.

She and others in Witney have said they constantly hear stories from people struggling to find housing, being placed into unsuitable emergency accommodation or even separated from their families.

Ms Ashbourne said: “To hear Keith Butler say it was unprecedented and a historical moment really just shows what an important issue it is for our community.

"We didn’t struggle to get signatures.

“It really doesn’t matter if people own their own home or have children or are young adults or whatever situation they are in – house prices are astronomical for everyone.

“Witney is a funny place.

"You’ve got this lovely little town and it’s expected to be expensive – but people do need to be able to afford to live here.”

Campaigners hope the council will consider lending money to a housing association like Cottsway or investing its reserves into its own housing – but largely they want councillors to be creative in their approach to the issue.

When the petition was first launched, the district council discussed the array of steps the council had taken to improve the housing situation in the district, including its partnership purchase scheme, which allows people to buy a share of a home with the council funding the rest.

The district council has about £12m of uncommitted useable reserves – but said these are revenue funds, often used to support service delivery and are typically used to ensure the council does not have to make sudden knee-jerk cuts in response to central government reductions in funding.

A date has not yet been set for the debate.