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.