Jack Straw’s Lane: the new Frontier

Notes from an open pre-application exhibition 28 Feb 2019

Frontier Estates, the developers behind Beech House on Latimer Road, hope to build 160 student rooms on land surrounding St Michael and All Saints Church, Marston Road, New Marston. The site consists of a disused timber yard (previously a brickworks) and five residential properties which would be demolished. There would be a mix of studios and flats plus some offices (to replace the previous employment site) and some apartments (to replace the houses).

This was the only public showing of Frontier’s plans. It was described by another visitor as ‘curiously cheap’: the entire display consisted of just two roll-up banners with very little information and no certified views of the visual impact of the development. Frontier do not own the site; they claim to have options to buy all the properties which they would exercise when (if) they get planning permission.

Frontier’s representatives claimed variously that the development will be for ‘graduate students’ and ‘medical students’, and that they are in discussion with ‘an Oxford (University) college’, ‘a number of colleges’ and ‘the hospitals’. I think it is fairly sure that they have no agreement as yet with any institution to take the rooms. If they truly intend the development to be for graduates then we might expect Oxford University to also be interested, but no such claim was made in my hearing. Frontier did say that the development was not for Brookes.

As for the development itself, there were very few details available. The main access is from Jack Straw’s Lane, normally fairly quiet and part of the designated NE Quiet Cycle Route from Thornhill P&R to the city centre. Once an application has been submitted, planners will need to look closely at access, parking, deliveries, turning space, etc. I asked about cycle parking and was told it would be provided as required by planning policies, but the architect I asked couldn’t show me where on the drawings it would be.

The drawings showed a narrow secondary access from Marston Road. This would ‘normally be closed except for pedestrians’ but could be opened ‘for emergency vehicles’. I asked about the busy times at start and end of term – where would cars pick up and drop off? ‘Designated time-slots’ was the answer; apparently this is supposed to apply at Beech House on Latimer Road, but is an obvious failure. The secondary access from Marston Road ‘could also be opened at these times’. There is no access from the road at the moment, and any new access would have to cross a cycle path and a pedestrian footway. ‘There would be marshals’, I was told, though my impression was that this was off the top of the head of the person I was talking to.

The site straddles the boundary of the Headington Neighbourhood Plan. The drawings on show were not detailed enough to determine which existing properties or how much of the proposed new development would lie within the plan area.

There is a growing thread on the Headington & Marston e-democracy forum which is worth reading as an indicator of local feelings.

Developer: Frontier Estates
Architect: BroadwayMalyan
Planning Agent: Carter Jonas

Ivy Lane and Churchill flats

I went to the short-lived pre-application public showing of A2Dominion’s plans to redevelop the Ivy Lane flats on the JR site, and to build new accommodation next to the blocks they already have on the east side of Churchill Drive. The display consisted of two boards showing the site layouts, one board with an earlier version, and various computer graphics of how the developments might look.

I didn’t glean very much information. The architects for both schemes are MEPK Architects. It was not clear just how much extra accommodation there would be, but there would certainly be more than there is now. There didn’t seem to be much to object to in the proposals but I think the contentious points locally will be access for construction traffic, especially for Ivy Lane, as the only viable route seems to be along Osler Road with access on the ‘bendy’ part. The Ivy Lane plans also show a ‘New Access’ entrance to the site on the bends; someone said something about needing to ‘open up the angles a bit’ to improve visibility for this entrance.

The other issue that might be controversial will be the proposed building heights. The site plans didn’t show this, but the architect’s images show some blocks up to (I think) 6 storeys, others less. This may well be acceptable, especially in the context of desirable densification, but the headline is likely to trigger local concern.

A2Dominion hope to submit full planning applications before the end of the year, which should fill in a lot of the details, but they admit they’ve still got a lot of work to do before being ready.

Latest News from Narnia

I noted at the end of last month in HH367 that nothing seemed to have happened for 18 months on the planning application to build next to the C S Lewis Nature Reserve on a plot in Wychwood Lane, Risinghurst. The original story is in my article “Border Skirmish in Narnia“.

One of the unsatisfactory aspects of the application was that it is made in the name of “The Wychwood Foundation”, an organisation that didn’t exist then and still doesn’t exist now. I say it doesn’t exist: it isn’t a registered charity, nor is it registered at Companies House. Search engines only know about it in the context of this planning application. It is not the same as any of several other “Wychwood” organisations including the Wychwood Project and the Wychwood Trust. Nevertheless, the Wychwood Foundation’s planning application seeks charitable exemption from the statutory development levy (CIL).

Then last week someone who had used the services of Beecher Accoustics sent me this letter they had received. The Beechers are the people behind the non-existent Foundation and here describe themselves as Trustees. One of the several bizarre things about the letter is the invitation to buy a 6 bedroom house adjacent to the plot they want to develop. The house is the one at the top of Lewis Close, number 7, which features in the planning application. This shows an access road into the development alongside this house in Lewis Close rather than from Wychwood Lane (where the Beechers live). I’ve looked at several online property sites and it looks as though the house is not on the open market. Do the Beechers actually own this house as well as the house they gave as their address 18 months ago, 4 Wychwood Lane? If they do own it, why isn’t it on the market? If they don’t own it, what are they doing inviting offers? Obviously it would help their cause if the owners of 7 Lewis Close were supporters of their plans rather than opponents, but what do they expect to happen if someone gets their letter and says they are interested in buying number 7?

Eighteen months ago the Beechers were, and still are, Director and Secretary of Beecher Accoustics Limited, registered at 1 Quarry High Street. Earlier this year (31 January) a new company called Quarry Mews Ltd was incorporated with the Beechers as Director and Secretary, together with a William Blackham, B H G Gadhoke and H Gadhoke. This new company is also registered at 1 Quarry High Street. It gives its nature of business as “Development of building projects”. The Gadhokes in turn are directors of, among other interests, Red Kite Property Investments Ltd which has an address in Lighwater, Surrey. It looks as if the Beechers have taken some partners on board to help progress their plans.

Meanwhile there still doesn’t seem to be any movement towards the planning application coming forward for consideration. It will be interesting to see what happens when it does finally surface at the East Area Planning Committee.

Footnote: Companies House information downloaded from their website on 15 May 2018.