On 21 December 2017 the City Council gave prior approval to a change of use (ref: 17/02969/B56) allowing the conversion of the Nielsen building by the A40 next to Thornhill P&R into 134 flats. There were several conditions attached to the approval, which was a delegated decision. Campaigners and supporters of active travel will be pleased to see five conditions requiring better access to the site by foot and on cycles, cycle parking, and travel information for residents.
These two drawings may help put the text in context:
Condition 3 calls for “improvements … to the footpath to the south of the site … to create an appropriate shared footway and cycle access into the site. [This] must be of a sufficient standard for shared pedestrian and cycle use and must be appropriate for safe and convenient use year round.” This access leads into Risinghurst – good news for The Ampleforth!
Condition 4: “Improvements … for pedestrians accessing the site from the proposed vehicular access point to the north of the site. The scheme shall detail appropriate levels of street lighting and footway widths… [and] shall be carried out … before the development … is first occupied.”
Condition 5: “Improve the … current secondary vehicular exit, towards the west of the site, for the use of pedestrians and cyclists. The scheme shall provide details of the closure of the exit for vehicular use, and improvements to be made to the pedestrian and cycle environment including; appropriate levels of street lighting and the reinstatement of the footway and cycle route along the southern site of the A40 at this access. The improvements shall be carried out … before the development … is first occupied.”
Condition 6 specifies a minimum of 326 easily accessible cycle parking spaces, and Condition 7 requires there to be a Travel Plan Co-ordinator for the site and for a Residential Travel Information Pack to be given to every resident when they move in.
Of course, the fiasco of cycle provision at Westgate isn’t a good precedent. Although we will have to wait and see how the Nielsen site turns out it seems to be a step in the right direction. But the city planners will have to keep their eye on the ball to make sure the developers deliver good quality schemes to satisfy these conditions.
I mentioned three weeks ago in HH344 that the new development off Waynflete Road in Barton is being marketed by Cala Homes as Bayswater Fields. Here now is the link I didn’t have then so you can see what they’re offering. Prices range from £305k for a 1-bed apartment to £716k for a 5-bed house.
It’s disappointing to see that like Mosaics Oxford in Barton Park, Cala’s marketing deliberately avoids any mention of Barton. According to Cala, Bayswater Fields is “situated in the warm and welcoming community of Headington”.
Equally disappointing given Headington’s – and Oxford’s – congested traffic, poor air quality and the City and County’s stated policies of encouraging people to switch away from using cars to more sustainable ways of travelling, under the ‘Location’ tab on the marketing pages there’s a section headed ‘Superbly Connected’. It lists several local destinations under ‘On Foot’, followed by many more ‘By Car’ and information about stations. There is no suggestion that aspiring Bayswater Fields residents could conceivably want to travel by bike or public transport.
Oxford City policies, reinforced by the Headington Neighbourhood Plan, would require the developers to pay positive attention to non-car travel. Sadly, Bayswater Fields is just over the border in South Oxfordshire District where it would seem such forward thinking doesn’t apply.
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.