THE City Council is this week publishing its proposed Area Action Plan for the future development of the land known as the Northern Gateway, which is bordered by Pear Tree roundabout to the north, the Bicester railway line to the east, the A34 to the west and Joe White’s Lane and the Godstow Road to the south.
It was identified at the Core Strategy Inquiry in 2011 as land suitable for development, employment-led, provided the traffic implications could be addressed adequately.
Since then, people have highlighted the needs of Oxford and Oxfordshire to build on current strengths in scientific research and university spin-offs to ensure its future prosperity.
The City Deal identified key locations for new science and technology research and development, and provided funds to address congestion issues at the Wolvercote and Cutteslowe roundabouts and a new link road between the A40 and the A44.
The Northern Gateway site is planned to provide up to 8,000 jobs over the next ten or so years. Where will these people come from?
There are very optimistic suggestions that most will arrive on foot, bicycle, bus or train.
It seems unarguable that most will not come from Oxford itself, but from the surrounding areas – wherever they can find somewhere to live.
The need for housing of all types in Oxford and Oxfordshire has been underlined by the recent figures of estimated need over the next ten or more years.
Oxford’s unmet need alone suggests that an extra 20,000 dwellings will be needed over this time and they clearly cannot be provided within Oxford’s boundaries.
It will be essential to plan jointly across the county for more housing in places well served by public transport, in well-designed communities with appropriate facilities for a good quality of life.
Any sites allocated for housing within the Northern Gateway must meet these criteria.
The County Council is the first to admit that while the proposed improvements to the roundabouts and the new link road will address the current problems, more measures elsewhere will be needed to mitigate the impact of any development on the Northern Gateway site.
More funds for an additional link road through the site and the necessary new junctions will help. But unless the traffic on the A40 and the A44 can be significantly reduced, there is little prospect of the site being able to integrate in any meaningful way with the immediately surrounding communities.
What is needed, is a redirection of A40 west-east traffic onto the new western link road to the A34 and the M40 – so that the current A40 through north Oxford becomes a 30mph suburban road, rather than a major artery carrying massive HGVs and traffic that only wants to get past Oxford, not into it.
The land between the A40 and Wolvercote village is currently Green Belt.
The Inspector at the Core Strategy Inquiry said that a highly focused boundary review in this area could be carried out to consider whether exceptional circumstances exist to justify release of Green Belt land.
The consultation on the preferred options document came out strongly in favour of keeping the boundary where it is, supported by 73 per cent of respondents.
The City Council says that it has carried out the review, with no public involvement, and decided to move the boundary regardless of public opinion. The Liberal Democrat view is that there should be a review, with public consultation, of the entire Green Belt round Oxford to see whether exceptional circumstances would justify redrawing the boundary without harm to the functions of the Green Belt.
The whole process is being rushed to meet extremely tight deadlines. It is too important a site to be pushed through, without more serious consideration of the views of local people and others who will be affected by it. Local people are essential development partners.
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