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