Westgate call-in request

2 April 2014

Although Oxford Civic Society broadly welcomes the redevelopment of the Westgate shopping centre in the centre of Oxford the Society still has concerns about the shape and style of the development and its effect on the transport systems and traffic it will generate. The Society has therefore decided to ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to call in the outline planning application granted by Oxford City Council. The Society’s reasons are set out in the letter below. The principal reasons are the scale of the development, traffic issues and the need for re-assurance of objectivity in a situation where the City is a significant freeholder in the site.

Dear Sirs

I write as Chairman of the Oxford Civic Society to request the Secretary of State to exercise the powers conferred on him by Section 77 of the principal Act and to “call-in” this planning application for his own determination.

Oxford Civic Society has a membership of some 950 of those citizens most committed to the heritage, and present and future welfare of our internationally renowned city. Our corporate members include leading local businesses and University of Oxford Colleges.

We are by no means opposed to the principle of this development, and have welcomed the preliminary discussions we have enjoyed with the developer, Westgate Oxford Alliance.

Nevertheless we are concerned at the decision to progress the development by means of an Outline Planning Application, which was considered by the city’s West Area Planning Committee on 11th March 2014. The Committee resolved to support the application, subject to it not being recovered by the Secretary of State for his own determination. The necessity for this qualification is that part of this very large proposed retail development lies outside the defined central shopping area, and therefore represents a departure from the city’s Development Plan.

Our specific concerns are:

  1. This is an extremely large development which will add over 80,000 square metres of additional retail floor space to the central area of the city. Whilst the proposed outline permission is hedged with 57 conditions, it is not clear from the ‘parameter plans’ presented with this application that the crucial questions of the height and massing of the individual built units (all reserved matters) will not have an unacceptable impact on the historic heritage which is one of the city’s most cherished characteristics.
  2. This large development will require, and can be expected to attract, a major increase in footfall, much of which will be tempted to arrive by car. The Oxfordshire County Council as highway authority has commented that with the limited car parking spaces on site “Demand for car parking will frequently exceed supply”, thus adding to Oxford’s notorious traffic problems. The County Council has however not raised objection to the planning application, on the grounds that many of the additional trips will be by non-car mode, and that the remainder can be accommodated by improvements to the existing road network, financed by the large CIL contributions to be made. However the details of such modifications, particularly the revised layout for Frideswide Square which controls access to the area from the West, a new Station layout generating its own traffic, and agreements with the public service providers, are still in the development stage, and any modelling of future traffic patterns is thus at best speculative. Furthermore such modelling as has been produced fails to demonstrate adequately that the effects on both car and non-car transport modes will be acceptable. Many of the additional visitors will be from outside Oxford. If the proposed transport strategy ‘fails’ the consequences could include congestion extending as far as the already congested A34 Trunk Road with economic and potential safety impacts. Under the circumstances, the application, in terms of its traffic assessment, should be regarded as premature.
  3. Oxford City Council is itself the freeholder of a significant portion of the site, and an agreement and lease has been negotiated between the council and the Westgate Oxford Alliance. Under the circumstances, it could be considered desirable for the Secretary of State to assess all the implications of the proposed development, in the interests of ensuring genuine objectivity in the consideration of the proposals, which constitute the largest single development in the 1000-year history of the city.

We are aware that for a Planning Application to be called in, it should be regarded as of more than local significance. We suggest that the international status of the city of Oxford merits very special consideration, and that the issues requiring special examination are of particular interest not only locally, but also to the nine million visitors to the city attracted every year and to the residents of the surrounding region, whom the proposed development is intended to serve.

For your information, I attach a copy of the detailed comments made to Oxford City Council as Planning Authority in the consultation on the application.

Yours faithfully

Peter Thompson
Chairman, Oxford Civic Society

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