First builder chosen for Barton Park

Oxford City Council and Grosvenor Estates, joint developers of @BartonPark_, have announced that housebuilders Hill have been chosen to build the first tranche of new housing in Barton Park.

Hill’s company profile says:

Hill is committed to designing and building homes that offer their occupants stylish and contemporary living environments and that help to create appealing and sustainable local communities.

Our homes are distinguished by their inspirational design, creative use of materials, sustainable strategies, contemporary fixture and fittings and meticulous attention to detail.

At Hill we don’t believe in standard house types because every environment is different. So each development, large or small, rural or city centre, is carefully crafted by our in-house design team to be sympathetic to its surroundings and influences.

Although their website features many rather upmarket and expensive houses and developments, in and among you can find some developments which are more in keeping with what we might expect for Barton Park – see for instance this apartment development in Bow, East London or this in Cambridge, or this mixed development in Sidcup.

Barton Park has always said that Oxford’s newest suburb will be built to a high standard and with the intention of creating a sustainable community, and the choice of builder for the first stage seems to support this. However, the success or failure of Barton Park will depend just as much on the provision of infrastructure – a school, shops, and most importantly viable transport links which encourage new residents to cycle, walk and use public transport rather than adding to Headington’s congested roads by using private cars for every journey. We have still to see anything other than fine words on these matters.

Barton Park shrouded in obscurity

I’ve criticised the obscurity of the planning system before, and another example has just emerged. Big developments thrive by making informed public debate virtually impossible. The @BartonPark_ reserved matters planning documents are online for scrutiny. There are 113 documents, so good luck to anyone who wants to know the details.

For example, the preamble to the list of documents says it covers cycle paths, but not one of the documents has the word ‘cycle’ in its title so it’s extremely difficult to find any information about what’s being proposed. In fact I tried searching the page for ‘cycle’, ‘park’, ‘lighting’, footpaths’ and ‘ponds’, all said to be included within the application. None of the documents listed have any of these words in their titles.

In practice the only people who will dig into the details are a few professionals working for the developers and a few Council officers. Elected Councillors won’t have time and will rely on being told what the officers think they need to know. Meaningful discussion will be non-existent, and public participation effectively quashed.

Nice one, Barton Park and Oxford City.

Barton Park – an Overwhelming Exemplar?

Two weeks ago the news broke prematurely that the West Barton development is going to be called Barton Park. This seemed such a bad idea that I wrote a piece about it. Plenty of people agreed. In fact in those two weeks no-one has responded to say they liked the name, although two (I think) have said they are content with it.

How this unloved name was chosen is still not clear. The press release claimed there had been “significant local consultation”. I asked the developers (a partnership between Grosvenor Estates and Oxford City Council) who told me on twitter the “name was initially suggested as part of the AAP [Barton Area Action Plan]. Additional consultation as part of the outline application & via drop in sessions and engagement with the local school”. A local councillor added “There was an event at the school and it was discussed in BCA [Barton Community Association]”.

While this was going on last week no-one came forward to say they knew anything about any consultation. Then came the official announcement: it says

Barton Park was one of several names that were suggested during the consultation phase for the Area Action Plan in 2012. After gauging public opinion, it was clear that both Barton Oxford LLP and the local community wanted a name that connected the existing community at Barton with the new neighbourhood.

At drop in sessions and through engagement with the Bayards Hill School and retailers during the outline planning application consultation, it became evident that Barton Park was a popular name and the final say was had by the children at Bayards Hill School, who were asked to create a logo for the new community. Their drawings were entered in to a competition and logos for Barton Park received the most votes by a significant margin. Their entries gained further support at the Barton Bash, which was held in August this year.

I went back to the Action Plan. I can find nothing about a name in either the Proposed Submission (Feb 2012) or the Inspector’s final report. If as the developers claim names were suggested during that process it seems they never made it into the published documents for discussion.

The next stage was the Outline Planning Application (ref 13_01383_OUT). Among the 70 documents involved there’s one, the Statement of Community Involvement, which mentions naming the development. It’s in a section reporting comments made at the drop-in sessions, and presents just two – conflicting – views:

– Need for transparency and integration with existing Barton, new development should not be a separate entity with its own separate facilities and a different name.
– Potential to give the new neighbourhood a totally different name to any other Oxford neighbourhood, which will give it a new identity and fresh start.

The official Grant of Outline Planning Permission dated 25 September 2103 does not mention any name or names.

On this evidence the claim in the official announcement that “it was clear that … the local community wanted a name that connected the existing community at Barton with the new neighbourhood” is unsubstantiated.

The final claims of public legitimacy for the choice of Barton Park involve Bayards Hill School, the Barton Bash (an annual community celebration event) and the Barton Community Association. The Oxford Times carried the story, saying “The decision was made after a series of consultations at the annual Barton Bash event and at Bayards Hill Primary School.” The paper goes on to quote James Robinson of Grosvenor Estates saying:

The name was the “overwhelming” choice from the children. Because of the number of different names for the development we thought we needed to establish an identity for the location. We want to create a special place. We have been driven by the word ‘exemplar’. The children at Bayards Hill School were asked to do a naming and drawing sessions and Barton Park was the overwhelming choice. There were half a dozen names and in the end we gave it to the children.

Even allowing for the editing done by the paper, nothing we know suggests “the number of different names” was in the public domain. “The children at Bayards Hill School were asked to do a naming and drawing sessions and Barton Park was the overwhelming choice.” Were the children actually asked to come up with names or just draw logos? Were names suggested by anybody? And whose “overwhelming” choice?

Finally I asked someone I know who was at the Barton Bash. He couldn’t remember this matter coming up, though he did say that didn’t mean it wasn’t mentioned at some point.

I wrote to the developers, Bayards Hill School and Barton Community Association asking them to contact me to give their part in the story. Only Grosvenor Estates (the commercial part of the development partnership) have replied. I put these points to them, asking them to direct me to any evidence to support their claims that the community had been involved apart from whatever went on at the school. They politely declined to add anything to their statements in the press release.

I’m forced to conclude that there is no evidence, and that the claims they made – and continue to make – are spurious. The sad thing about all this is that the developers have given the new community a name which they think will help them sell land but which very few people seem to like. If they wanted Barton Park all along they should just have said so. Attempting to legitimise their choice by invoking non-existent support from the community is unworthy of them.

New Primary School for Barton West

There’s going to be a new primary school in Barton West/Barton Park/Bayswick. Because it’s a new school it will be an Academy and not run by the County. There won’t be any choice over this, it seems. However, the County Council has the job of running a public consultation to gather views on the type of academy trust people would prefer to run the new school, and views on any particular focus or services they would like the school to offer.

The County’s consultation website says:

The government has set out a bidding and selection process by which new school providers are chosen. First, the county council will invite bids from academy trusts wanting to run the new school. A selection procedure will follow and the final decision is shared by the county council and central government Department for Education (DfE).

This consultation is to hear what sort of organisation you would like to see run the new school in Barton West. This will help us when we assess the bids that come in. For example, the school might be run by:

  • A faith organisation
  • A national education charity
  • A national academy chain
  • An existing local school
  • A community group

Source: https://myconsultations.oxfordshire.gov.uk/consult.ti/BartonWest2013/view?objectId=2995

If you have views on these choices, and I expect many people do, now is the time to make your thoughts known to the Council. The consultation closes on 18 December. There are two drop-in sessions with County officers in attendance: Tuesday 12 November from 3.30pm to 6.00pm and Monday 2 December also from 3.30pm to 6.30pm, both in the Music Service Hall at Bayards Hill Primary School, Barton.

Link to Consultation web pages: Click here.

Barton Park or Bayswick?

I was surprised to read on @RuthWilk‘s blog on Monday that “After significant local consultation (and particularly with children at Bayards Hill School) the overwhelming support [for the name of the Barton West development] was for the name Barton Park”. The statement was attributed to “the relevant City Council manager”.

Now I don’t live in Barton so you could say it’s none of my business, but I didn’t know anything about a consultation and nor did anyone else I asked. And I accept that no-one has a right to be consulted anyway. I asked @BartonOxford, the twitter account of the developers, but they were a bit coy about it at first, saying I’d have to wait until next Sunday for the ‘brand launch’. So it’s not just a name, it’s a brand. Later they said the “name was initially suggested as part of the [Barton Area Action Plan]. Additional consultation [took place] as part of the outline application & via drop in sessions and engagement with the local school. All details to come next week”. I’m not doubting their word, but I think at both those stages people’s minds were on much bigger issues than a name for the new development, so it wasn’t discussed much if at all.

What’s the fuss anyway? It’s just a name – sorry, brand. But it’s a name Oxford’s going to be stuck with for evermore. It’ll be on bus stops and bus destination displays. It’ll be in guidebooks and on maps. In earnest meetings Councillors will talk about their constituents in Barton Park. Maybe, just maybe if the developers get it right it will be written up in journals, and architects and planners from around the world will come to admire it, bringing TV film crews with them. Worthy dignitaries from Bonn will be taken on guided tours.

But as local historians have pointed out, this area has never been a park, and has never been part of Barton. To my mind, the name ‘Barton Park’ sounds just like any other edge-of-town development built in the past thirty years. Parks, Gardens and Groves, Heights and Views, Glebes, Meadows, Medes and Meads sprawl everywhere, as bland as their names designed to pander to the developers’ idea of the young and aspirational property-owning middle classes. Isn’t Barton West aiming to be better than that – not a dormitory suburb but a whole new community with a school, shops, a pub, open spaces, sports facilities, a community centre? A mixed, lively, diverse, *real* community?

And why do these names always have to be two words? Oxford, Headington, even Barton may have started out as two words which joined together but I don’t see Bartonpark in the 22nd century.

When I set this hare running on twitter I didn’t have a better suggestion and I wasn’t taking it very seriously. But as more people started saying they weren’t impressed with Barton Park I tried to come up with something better. One word, with some relevant local reference, something that would give the new development a real separate identity. And then inspiration struck. I give you ….. BAYSWICK. Why? Because the Bayswater Brook runs along one side of the development, and ‘wick’ is a good old English place-name element for town, hamlet, district and in some parts of the country a dairy farm. There are plenty of ‘-wicks’ near rivers. As a bonus, it’s unique: neither Google Maps nor Google know of anywhere in the world called Bayswick.

So that’s it. Bayswick. I’m sorry if there’s a class at Bayard’s School who’ll be disappointed but we can’t saddle them and their children’s children with Barton Park. Leave a comment if you agree – or disagree!

I’ve compiled a Storify timeline of tweets on this story. Click here or use the link under ‘Storify Stories’ near the top of the right sidebar.

West Barton – first rumblings

Some time in the next few months the City Council and Grosvenor, joint developers of the West Barton area, will submit their first planning applications for the development. Expect plenty of jockeying for influence. The Oxford Times carried a story on Monday reporting that current Barton residents are anxious about suggestions their doctors’ surgery and police hub may be moved from the Community Centre on Underhill Circus to new premises in the new development “up to one-and-a-half miles away”.

While it’s easy to understand Barton’s concerns, the chances are that if a new Community Centre is part of the new development it will be built close to the centre of gravity of the combined areas where it can be reached most easily by most people. A mile and a half is impossible – the furthest point of the Barton West development area (where the Bayswater Brook reaches the A40) is only a mile from Underhill Circus. The closest point is less than half a mile away (see map from 2012 draft Area Action Plan).

Discussion and debate on a major development is good. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a whole new area of Oxford. We need to get it right, and sloppy journalism (at best) and false information (at worst) won’t help.