Cotuit Hall and the Neighbourhood Plan

The latest planning application by the EF International language school [correction: EF International Academy UK Ltd. – see comment below] to redevelop their Cotuit Hall site on Pullen’s Lane went to the East Area Planning Committee (EAPC) last Wednesday (8 November). The city’s planning officers’ recommendation was to approve the application.

However, the full Committee papers barely mentioned the Headington Neighbourhood Plan (HNP) and it was not at all obvious that the Plan’s policies had been taken into account. After local councillors intervened a supplementary note was presented to the Committee on the day. This note examined all the relevant HNP policies and advised they were all complied with. Two local groups spoke against the application, which was subjected to a thorough examination, and EAPC turned the application down by a 4-2 [correction: 5-3 – see comment below] vote with one abstention.

The minutes of the meeting are now public on the Council website; I’ve also extracted the text and uploaded it here. The minutes record the reasons the Committee refused the application; there are several, including four HNP policies where the Committee went against the officers and concluded they were not complied with. These are:

  • GSP2 Provision of green space within developments
  • GSP4 Protection of the setting of the site
  • CIP1 Development to respect existing local character
  • CIP4 Protecting important assets

Full details of these policies are in the Neighbourhood Plan.

Ruth Wilkinson has reported that Councillors are being bombarded with emails from EF staff asking for the application to be called in to the Planning Review Committee (PRC).

It seems to me quite likely that it will be called in and the PRC will overturn the decision. They will grant permission because they don’t want to get into a costly appeal process. If it’s not called in I think we can assume EF will appeal anyway. Either way it will be a good indication of the City’s commitment to the NP, and if it comes to appeal, of the status of the NP in the Inspector’s eyes. I’ve read that Inspectors elsewhere have supported Neighbourhood Plans and rejected appeals which would overturn them.

However, compliance with these particular policies will always be a matter of judgement and there is a weakness in the planning system which is easy to exploit. Planning permission is often granted with conditions which the developer has to meet within a specified timescale. It is usually delegated to officers to decide if the condition has been met: the developer (or their consultants) prepares a document, submits it to the Council and it is nodded through with little scrutiny, however good or bad the document may be. I’ll stick my neck out and forecast this is what will happen here: the application will be called in; the PRC will grant permission with conditions which they can claim will satisfy the various policy requirements; there will be a lull; documents addressing some of the conditions will be prepared, submitted and approved with almost no scrutiny; for other conditions the developers will request and be granted a variation of conditions which lets them avoid compliance; the development will go ahead more-or-less as it now stands and no benefit will have been gained for the local community and environment.

To call in the application needs twelve councillors to request it by 5pm next Tuesday (14 November). So for now we wait and see.

On a more positive note the city’s planning paperwork is being changed to explicitly include the Headington Plan where relevant, with instructions that the Plan’s policies must be given full consideration and weight.

Access to Barton Park

The first phase of housing in Barton Park is being marketed under the brand name Mosaics Oxford. The marketing suite and show home have been open for about a month, but there was some confusion locally over whether the development and the marketing office could be safely accessed on foot or by bicycle. This is particularly interesting because of the ‘low car, bike friendly’ intentions of the original development and the planning permission that was given.

I’m pleased to report that a visit today confirmed that pedestrians and cyclists can get into Barton Park and the marketing offices safely. The security fencing on Foxwell Drive is open for people on foot or on bikes to pass through, bringing them to the crossing lights on the A40. Anyone approaching on the A40 cycle path has free access to the same place.

There are three toucan crossings, one each across the two main carriageways of the A40, and one covering the exit lane from Barton Park onto the north (Headington roundabout bound) side of the by-pass. All are working.

I was able to cross the A40 on my bike without waiting too long for the traffic to stop. The only part of the process that felt uncomfortable was coming back to the Northway side where you find yourself waiting on a rather narrow island in the middle of the A40 with vehicles blasting down the hill at speeds well above 50mph passing you within a few feet.

While I was at it I thought I’d check out Mosaics’ claim about how close they are to all the Headington action.

On my shopping bike and without getting out of the saddle, from the Foxwell Drive junction via Old Headington and Old High Street to Headington shops traffic lights took 7½ minutes. So yes, not bad. To either end of the JR would be less.

Ground-level view of Barton Park, 08/10/2017
Ground-level view of Barton Park
Plenty of paint on the A40
Plenty of paint on the A40
Access from Foxwell Drive on foot and by bike
Access from Foxwell Drive on foot and by bike
A40 crossing - south side
A40 crossing – south side
A40 crossing, north side
A40 crossing, north side

Possible Development Sites in OX3

As I mentioned in early July (HH324) Oxford City is consulting on the ‘Preferred Options’ stage of the City’s developing Local Plan covering the period up to 2036. The consultation runs until 25 August. If you need to catch up try the Council’s Local Plan web page and @OxCivicSoc‘s short article. You can download the full Preferred Options document here.

Section 9 of the document  is headed ‘Sites’. It starts with this explanation:

A site allocation is a planning policy that describes what type of land use, or mix of uses, would be acceptable on a specific site or whether the site is protected for certain types of development. The purpose of the site allocations is to allocate sites for built development or to maintain a type of built development on a site. Site allocations are important because they give guidance and certainty to developers and landowners and they help local people understand what may happen in their neighbourhood in the future.

Two poor quality maps show (1) sites that have been rejected as unsuitable for development for a variety of reasons, and (2) sites that may have development potential subject in some cases to further investigation. Each map is followed by a table identifying the sites shown on the map. This is the map of ‘Sites recommended for further investigation’.

Sites recommended for further investigation
Sites recommended for further investigation

I’ve used the map and the tables to make a more useful map showing just the ‘further investigation’ sites in OX3*. I’ve placed the markers as best I can but I can’t guarantee that I have all of them spot on. The same goes for the postcode you’ll see among the data from the tables when you click on a marker – the Council doesn’t give a postcode so I’ve used one that’s close by as a means of getting the marker on the map.


It’s best to click on the icon at the right of the header bar to make the map full-screen.

As always, it’s worth taking the time and trouble to pass on any comments you have on this or any other part of the Preferred Options. Various ways of doing this are on the Council’s Local Plan web page whose link is at the top of this article.

* I’ve left out a few commercial sites outside the Ring Road which are technically in OX3.

Don’t mention Barton

This story was first published in HH 326 on 17 July 2017.

Now here’s a strange thing. The first houses being built in @BartonPark_ are being marketed under the name “Mosaics Oxford”. The marketing campaign has emerged on twitter as @Mosaics_Oxford and they have a website which was first registered in April last year —  The copyright tag on the website shows that Mosaics is another face of the builders of Phase 1, Hill. Mosaics Oxford is, they claim, a “vibrant new community”, “nestled next to Oxford’s bustling city centre”. Devoted readers will recall that an important selling point of Barton Park was how the new development would integrate with existing Barton to their mutual benefit. Strange then that the word ‘Barton’ (with or without the ‘Park’) doesn’t appear anywhere in Mosaics’ sales pitch. The street address of the marketing office (or ‘suite’, as they prefer to style it) is just a postcode which places it in St Aldates.

Border Skirmish in Narnia

Battle lines are being drawn up over a planning application in Risinghurst. The application (ref: 16/02549/FUL on the Council’s website) is to build

“4 x 3-bed, 3 x 2-bed and 2 x 1-bed apartments. Provision of amenity space, 22No. car parking spaces and cycle store. Formation of new vehicular access from Lewis Close. [on] Land Adjacent 4 Wychwood Lane Oxford OX3 8HG”

People are concerned about issues of access, traffic and more, but perhaps the most emotional reason for local opposition is that the site is right against the boundary of the C S Lewis Nature Reserve, a space that is much-loved, even treasured, by local people and admirers of the author and his works from all over the world. The proposed access road to the buildings starts at the top of Lewis Close directly opposite The Kilns, Lewis’s house in Risinghurst.

Site plan for the development
Site plan for the development

The Planning statement says “The proposal is made on behalf of the Wychwood Foundation, a charitable Trust.” This is not strictly true, as the Wychwood Trust does not exist as any recognised entity. It is not a registered charity or a limited company. However, among the planning documents on the Council’s website is a statement by the Foundation over the signatures of Jonathan and Sarah Beecher of 4 Wychwood Lane – the same address as the planning application so presumably the owners of some or all of the land. In their introduction they say “The aim of the Wychwood Foundation is to look after people who are vulnerable, and to give them a sense of happy and supportive community.”

Despite not being a registered charity the applicants are asking for the statutory exemption available to charities from the CIL contributions developers normally have to pay. The CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy) is the route by which local councils get money for providing infrastructure services (drainage, street lighting, refuse collection etc.) I have no experience of dealing with the Charity Commission, but it seems very unlikely that the Beechers will be able to satisfy the Charity Commissioners of their genuine charitable purposes and achieve registration in time for their application to be dealt with.

I notice that a Jonathan Beecher is the Director of Beecher Acoustics Ltd, whose registered address is 1 Quarry High Street. This company says its Nature of Business is “Manufacture of musical instruments, Repair of other equipment, Buying and selling of own real estate” – that last phrase seeming to cover the development in question if it is indeed the same person. The architectural drawings were drawn up by another Beecher based in Edinburgh.

The elevation drawings show a terrace of three storey buildings with steeply pitched roofs accommodating the top storey. The buildings are partially sunk below the ground level of part of the site. I’m sure the plans will be examined in great detail by all those who fear the impact the development may have on the local scene.

East and south elevations
East and south elevations
North and West elevations
North and West elevations

I should mention that there is a petition calling on the Council to reject the application – follow the link. As I write it has attracted 3570 signatures.

Footnote: I asked the applicants’ agents for a comment on the charitable status they are claiming on behalf of their clients but have had no reply. Documents shown or linked here were downloaded from the Council website on 25 and 27 October 2016 and archived on my website. Beecher Acoustics information from Companies House website 25 October 2016.

1 Pullen’s Lane care home timeline

Here is a brief history of the proposals to build a care home on the site of 1 Pullen’s Lane. Click here for a location map (the site boundaries are approximate).

March 2014 – Developers Carebase submit a planning application for a 55-bed care home at 1 Pullen’s Lane.

August 2014 – Planning permission refused. East Area Planning Committee said it did not fit with the area’s “rural tranquility”.

Jan 2016 – Frontier Estates submit a new planning application also for a 55-bed care home on the same site.

May 2016 – Frontier withdraw their application.

Sept 2016 – Frontier announce revised plans will submitted to Oxford Design Review Panel before submitting a formal planning application before the end of the year.

Barton Park progress

I went over to see what was happening where the Barton Park access road is being built into Foxwell Drive from the A40. Work is obviously progressing, and workmen were actually plantiing trees either side of the new link. Looking over to the Barton Park site I was struck by the size of it – it’s one thing to see it on a map, another for real on the ground. There seem to be new trees on the Barton Park side of the A40 too.

I took a couple of pictures. They’re not great, but for what it’s worth here they are.

A40 link road into Foxwell Drive
A40 link road into Foxwell Drive
The Barton Park site from the A40
The Barton Park site from the A40