Oxford Futures – Which Way Forward?

3 April 2014

Central Oxfordshire is at a critical point in its development. If local authorities and other agencies work together the area can be a model for ‘smarter growth’. But if each considers only short-term priorities, the area will lose its position as the home of a world class university and 21st century knowledge-based enterprises. This is the basis of the report Oxford Futures –Achieving Smarter Growth and its Call for Action summary whose launch on 31 March 2014 drew a high level audience to hear five short but challenging responses.

Introducing the report, the Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire Tim Stevenson OBE urged us all to keep in mind the big picture of what could be achieved. He said that the document was persuasive and coherent. It demonstrated that the experiences of others could help us to succeed.

The economic arguments for ‘smarter growth’ are overwhelming, as Ian Wenman, Deputy Chairman of the Local Enterprise Partnership, reminded the audience. Already the area is starting to draw on government funds that should improve mobility. But the real benefits will come from agreeing a strategic economic growth plan.

Oxford University’s Professor of Geography Danny Dorling warned that in terms of age profile and housing costs Oxford was looking like a London Borough – “Camden on Thames”. The University could easily lose its top position and the growth of knowledge-based industries would also suffer if the area is unable to provide junior staff with homes they can afford, and services such as education for their children. The area could ossify and end up like Santa Barbara, a place where only the rich can live.

David Edwards, Director of City Regeneration, who has been leading on the City Deal, pointed out that smarter growth may require questioning long-held policies such as concentrating expansion in the country towns, and constraining the city through its tight Green Belt. We have had plenty of analysis. He felt now was the time to start doing things.

Peter Headicar, transport expert at Brookes University said that the growth plans being discussed implied an increase in traffic of 30-40%. This was unsustainable: behaviour had to change. In central Oxford there had been major shifts in transport mode from car to bus, cycle and foot through management and not through the building of more infrastructure. A similar shift was needed in the area surrounding Oxford, which could be achieved by the marketing of existing public transport, understanding and modification of behaviour and much better integration of growth plans and transport infrastructure.

As Peter Studdert, Former Director of Joint Planning for Cambridge’s Growth Areas concluded, recent developments in Cambridge showed the value of insisting on higher quality standards, thanks to all the authorities working together with major landowners and developers.

In drawing the event to an end, Tim Stevenson hoped that all the stakeholders will continue working together, and indeed the first recommendation is to establish an Oxford Futures Commission to determine how best to handle major developments.

To download a copy of Oxford Futures – Achieving Smarter Growth and the Call for Action summary please go to the Smarter Growth page.

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