Should Oxford copy Cambridge?

8 October 2014

This article appeared in The Oxford Mail’s “The Issue” column on 8 October 2104. Oxford Civic Society Chairman Peter Thompson reiterates the case for co-operative planning between Oxford City, Oxfordshire County, and the surrounding District Councils, and suggests mechanism by which this could happen. In The Oxford Mail’s feature Oxford City Councillor David Henwood (Lab) argues from a different perspective for Oxford’s individuality.

Oxfordshire should be ambitious like Cambridgeshire. Reports, such as the Oxfordshire Innovation Engine – Realising the Growth Potential, say that businesses – especially those in science and knowledge-based fields – want to set up in central Oxfordshire, says Peter Thompson, chairman of Oxford Civic Society. But it will need world class transport links, housing, schooling and other infrastructure to match those world class businesses. Wonderful as the views of the dreaming spires are, no one wants to be forced to admire them from a traffic jam on the A34.

This poses a challenge to the county council and all five district councils. The opportunities are for central Oxfordshire, not just or even primarily for Oxford city. Cambridgeshire has found a way of getting councils of different political persuasions to work together. Oxfordshire must do likewise. Cambridgeshire has a quality charter and a panel of experts. The charter sets out to potential developers what is expected of them to secure planning permission. Oxford city has a design review panel and that has made input to the recent work on Northern Gateway, but a pan-Oxfordshire equivalent is missing. The Oxford Futures report published by the Oxford Civic Society in April 2014 calls for a quality review panel, a development forum and an Oxford futures commission.

This opens a dialogue with landowners and developers on what they need to provide or fund, and what needs to be funded by local or central government. Oxfordshire should do likewise. Lacking a coherent vision, the risk is that we will simply focus on the damage that poor development could inflict: loss of Green Belt, congestion, unaffordable house prices and so on. Oxfordshire should not rely on its competitors here and overseas doing likewise.

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