The future of the city of Oxford cannot be separated from that of the wider surrounding area from where thousands of people travel in daily to work, shop and enjoy the city’s many cultural attractions. While Oxford’s nationally important knowledge-based economy grows, space to house the people who work in and support it is shrinking. Oxford is part of the Central Oxfordshire city-region, and planning for development must be on this basis. This is the theme of Oxfordshire Futures.
The Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) for Oxfordshire was published in 2014, setting out the county’s housing needs up to 2031. It recognised that Oxford City could not build enough houses to meet its own needs, and called on the surrounding districts to co-operate to meet this ‘unmet need’.
After much discussion and debate Oxford’s unmet need is being included in the Local Plans each district is drawing up. Cherwell District Council has been consulting on its own contribution, set at 4400 new homes, looking at where these homes should be built. Oxford Civic Society’s Planning Group has submitted its comments which the Group believes are consistent with the “smarter growth” philosophy of Oxfordshire Futures.
The response says again that decisions on major developments should be set in the context of an overall spatial plan for the central Oxfordshire, integrating housing, transport and employment. The comments can be summarised as follows, accepting they have to be in the absence of such a plan:
- according to the SHMA’s analysis, Oxford’s unmet need arises mostly from the need for affordable housing rather than from economic growth;
- most district councils seem to accept that that potential development sites might lose their Green Belt status on the basis of the ‘exceptional circumstances’ prevailing in the Oxford area;
- Cherwell DC have identified a large number of potential sites across the District for the additional development;
- as the finally chosen sites are for Oxford’s unmet need it would be sensible if they were close to the city and with good transport links;
- sites outside the Green Belt would be less desirable as long as there are sites within in which can be developed without seriously damaging it. However, if parts of the Green belt are lost new areas should be designated to compensate;
- development of sites either side of the Banbury Road (A4165) north of Cutteslowe, including the North Oxford Golf Course, and some sites on the southern fringe of Kidlington would effectively extend the city and allow improved access from the Northern Gateway to Oxford Parkway station. But such development would potentially close the gap between Kidlington and Oxford;
- sites to the west of Kidlington are close to the A44 with good bus services into the city. A new station at Kidlington would make connections even better, perhaps as part of a SwiftRail or tram-train service;
- Cherwell DC is encouraged to take on a proactive role in the developments – a ‘Master Planner’ – to help capture increases in land value for investment in infrastructure.
The full response is here, with links to the background documentation.
A packed symposium in Oxford’s Kellogg College drew members of the Historic Towns Forum ranging from St Albans to Wells and York, together with a large contingent from Oxford. The aim was to learn from success, and to debate the principles that would lead to sustainable or ‘smarter growth’ that does not outstrip infrastructure capacity. Presentations on Grenoble and Freiburg provided an international dimension, and Nicholas Falk, one of the co-organisers drew out lessons from four other European cities acclaimed by the Academy of Urbanism, including Montpellier and some Dutch examples. Responses from the Leaders of both Oxford City and South Oxfordshire rounded up the event.
There is a video covering the key speakers and main conclusions of the event (use the password ‘staringpeople’), and the full written report of the symposium is available here.
Earlier this year a workshop was held in Oxford to look at the zone around the station known as Oxford Central West (read report). This area is crucial to the future of the city and is perhaps the most extraordinary underdeveloped area of any historic city in the UK. With plans for the redevelopment of the station being promoted and masterplans being announced for Oxpens and Osney Mead, there is a once in a lifetime opportunity to transform the area into a new quarter for the city fit for the 21st century.
There was concern at the workshop that the potential of the area will not be fully exploited unless the various developments are coordinated. Yet there seemed to be no mechanism to do this. A group of urbanists and urban designers therefore resolved to explore a physical vision for the whole of area. This was not intended to challenge any of the proposals currently being developed. Rather the aim was to explore how the various proposals could be joined together to create a coherent urban quarter and better gateway to Oxford.
The 200 acre site is currently a fragmented and largely forgotten part of the city. It is susceptible to flood and sliced up by the railway line, river and canal so that east/west movement is very difficult. Despite its proximity to the centre of Oxford it feels isolated and despite the character of the canal it does not have the appeal of a valued area like Jericho. It should be one of the most valuable parts of the city but the constraints make development difficult and the railway station redevelopment remains unfunded. All of this can potentially be overcome with a coordinated approach. This report sets out a vision for how this could be achieved.
We have produced a brief illustrated summary of the event’s conclusions and a pdf file in the form of a slide presentation which gives a much fuller account of the day’s proceedings. Both can be freely downloaded from the links.
New possibilities for place-based leadership
On 22 July 2016 Oxford Civic Society organised a lecture by Professor Robin Hambleton (University of the West of England) as a contribution to the debate on local authority devolution in Oxfordshire. The lecture was followed by a chaired discussion. The seminar focussed on leadership, democracy and growth for Oxford and its region.
The lecture was based on Prof. Hambleton’s recent book “Leading the Inclusive City”, and on the report prepared for the Local Government Association “English Devolution – Learning lessons from International Models of Sub-National Governance”. Robin cited examples of successful city regeneration, following different patterns of leadership, including from Bristol, Melbourne and New York.
We have prepared a summary of the event which you can read here, and Robin has kindly allowed us to publish his lecture slides which you can download here. (Note: If you get a warning about external links when you open this file, please just click ‘Cancel’ or ‘Ignore’. We can’t find any links to remove to prevent the warning!)
After last year’s consultation about options for relieving congestion on the A40 between Witney and Wolvercote, the County Council has published its preferred option with the expectation that it will receive cabinet approval shortly. They propose to make the road dual carriageway from the west as far as Eynsham, where there will be a new Park & Ride. From there bus lanes in each direction will be built but the road will remain a single carriageway. The bus lanes will only run as far as the bridge over the Duke’s Cut, about half a mile from the Wolvercote roundabout.
Hugh Jaeger, Chairman of Bus Users Oxford, writes these comments:
Fudge for car users
OCC’s plan is a hybrid. It proposes three miles of useful bus lane from Wolvercote to Eynsham and three miles of destructive dual carriageway between Eynsham and Shores Green. The bus lane is £12 million; the dual carriageway is £42 million.
OCC tell me that dualling a road costs about twice as much per mile as adding a bus lane on each side. The huge difference is because dual carriageways are built to much more elaborate and exacting standards. Therefore OCC’s proposal is about £21 million more than building bus lanes in both directions all the way between Shores Green and Duke’s Cut.
Almost all road expansion for at least the last five or six decades has increased traffic, and a Shores Green – Eynsham dual carriageway would do exactly the same. OCC refuses to believe it. It refuses to see that more road space will attract more car use.
OCC’s proposal does not satisfy the motor lobby. That lobby is still calling for the whole route to be dualled. Dualling between Shores Green and Eynsham will encourage demand to dual between Eynsham and Wolvercote, which in turn would require a “tin hat” bypass through the Kidlington Gap.
OCC’s only environmental consideration seems to be sensitive habitats in the area of Oxford Meadows. That was why it rejects dualling east of Eynsham but wants to dual west of Eynsham.
CO2 reduction and overall modal shift seemed to rate low on their priorities. I have seen no evidence from OCC that its A40 scheme is radical enough to fulfil either the Climate Change Act 2008 or the UK’s COP21 commitments. Instead OCC seems to be trying to placate car-dependent West Oxfordshire voters – and Witney MP David Cameron – by giving them a big new road.
Poor value for bus users
OCC’s bus lane proposal is hamstrung by its assumption that widening the bridges over the railway and canal would be too expensive. It therefore leaves the first half mile west of Wolvercote roundabout unimproved, with no bus lanes. That means half a mile of, potentially, daily car queues in which buses would still get stuck.
OCC says it would try to mitigate this with bus gates. I asked where these would be and how they would help. I was told they had not decided, and could give no more details.
I am no civil engineer. But does OCC pretend that widening the bridges to extend the bus lanes another half mile would cost more than £21 million?
Is the proposed hybrid scheme cheaper than bus lanes all the way between Shores Green and Wolvercote roundabout, including widening the bridges? I doubt it.
Of course Bus Users Oxford welcomes three miles of new bus lane on the A40. Eastbound from Eynsham to Duke’s Cut had already been decided upon; what this scheme would add is a westbound bus lane from Duke’s Cut to Eynsham. But the scheme is seriously compromised by both the missing half mile between Wolvercote and Duke’s Cut and the three miles of dual carriageway between Eynsham and Shores Green.
OCC’s current proposal for the A40 is not the most environmental option. It is not even the most affordable option. And it is certainly not radical enough to be called a solution.
Several key sites including the large area around Oxford Station and Oxpens; land on both sides of the railway; the area between Hythe Bridge Street and Park End Street, and the Osney Mead industrial estate are likely to be redeveloped over the next ten years. This offers a unique chance to create a new gateway to our historic city, a first class transport interchange, space for a range of employment and much needed housing.
In the past major developments have tended to be carried out piecemeal, each with a Master Plan which often failed to consider what would be happening in neighbouring areas. Oxford Civic Society realised this was a great opportunity to bring together a wide range of interested parties and encourage them to look for ways of co-ordinating their plans and create an outstanding new area of the city.
Together with the Academy of Urbanism, Oxford Civic Society organised a well-attended workshop on 16 March 2016. Represenatives of most of the main stakeholders – Oxford City and Oxfordshire County, Oxford University, Nuffield College, local residents’ associations, major developers and environmental groups came together to see if they could find a way forward which would deliver a successful and enduring future for this central part of the city. The workshop demonstrated that the old Parish of St Thomas offers space to enlarge the city centre to service a greater Oxford. If it is developed imaginatively it can help provide affordable housing, generate better jobs, solve transport problems, help reduce pollution and improve the quality of life for all. This will not be achieved without many years of effort.
A full report of the day’s procedings has been produced and is freely available for download here. It’s conclusions are summed up by three of the participants:
‘We need to get a vision, then a framework and a structure to make it happen’ – Bob Price: Leader, Oxford City Council.
‘We have to look fifty years ahead; we need a framework that is flexible so investors are bound to something they can evolve’ – Patrick Eve: Savills’ Partners.
‘The next step is to ask the stakeholders what their plans are, (and in a larger venue)’ – Peter Thompson: Chairman, Oxford Civic Society
The report sets out three “next steps” needed to put this ambitious project on a path towards a successful conclusion:
- The principal landowners need to meet regularly to continue to understand each other’s ambitions and expectations.
- The spatial linkages need to be mapped to identify the key infrastructure requirements, short and long term and feasibility studies will be needed to resolve key options e.g. transport links.
- A budget will be required to engage the community (especially young people) in what the area can offer and funding sources and management arrangements need to be identified and investigated.
Oxford Civic Society and Oxford Futures will continue to work with all the organisations and agencies involved to encourage the creation of an attractive, integrated, functional and sustainable new quarter of the City centre.