The plan to build more than 1000 homes in what has become known as West Barton (or sometimes Barton West) is set to become one of the big issues in Oxford over the next few years. The Barton Area Action Plan (BAAP) was approved by the City Council in December 2011 and the latest version of the plan will be out for public consultation soon.
Understandably the Council stress they want to build a new community which will be as fully integrated into the rest of the City as possible, but this presents several difficult problems. The A40 forms a barrier between West Barton and the areas inside the ring road, Old Headington and Northway. Access, new links, provision for public and private transport, all have to be debated and the best solutions found. Top of the agenda at the moment is the proposal to make the section of the A40 between Marston and the Green Road/Headington roundabout an ‘urban boulevard’. This means reducing the speed limit to 40mph which, it is claimed, makes it possible for houses to face the road rather than have their fronts facing into the development. The Chairman of the Oxford Civic Society, Peter Thompson, has written about this in a letter to the Oxford Times this week in which he says it will need “more than just speed limit signs” to achieve the desired results.
I am not taking issue with Mr Thompson; his letter is perfectly reasonable. The problem I have is that when feelings inevitably run high, claims and counter-claims are made by supporters of one or other approach to these development problems. Unsubstantiated assertions about what should or should not be done are made, but no supporting evidence is ever given. This may be because there is no evidence, although I suspect that there may be some in the planning literature.
Would the ‘urban boulevard’ be the first in the country? In Europe? If so we need to know that it is untried and untested, so the outcome will be highly uncertain. It might work, or it might not. Or has it been tried before? If so, was it a success or a failure? There must be case studies and examples we can look at to help us decide. So far all I have seen are comments about Sunderland Avenue: some say it should not be seen as a template for West Barton, others cite it as an example of the idea in practice. What we have is plenty of noise (sorry, no pun intended!) but little information.
So my plea is this: can the planners and others who want to contribute to the debate give us whatever evidence they have in support of their positions. Let’s have relevant examples of successes (and failures). If there is no evidence, say so: opinions are perfectly valid but knowing what has worked and what hasn’t is far more helpful. The opportunity to create an important new Oxford community (and to regenerate ‘Old Barton’) is too important: we need to give it the best possible chance of success.
The Council’s web page about the BAAP is here, where you can also download the latest version.