BICESTER could become one of up to five “garden cities” along a restored direct rail link between Oxford and Cambridge, it has emerged.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg yesterday told the Liberal Democrat party conference in Glasgow that towns on the route would be encouraged to build thousands of extra homes using green principles.

He said: “Housebuilding is stuck in the doldrums, with nowhere near enough homes being built to meet demand and keep prices affordable for those families desperate for a home of their own.

“If the Liberal Democrats are part of the next government, we will ensure at least ten (garden cities) get under way, with up to five along this new Garden Cities Railway, bringing new homes and jobs to the brain-belt of South East England.”

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Conservative MP for North Oxfordshire Sir Tony Baldry has backed the idea and revealed Cherwell District Council is currently bidding for Bicester to win garden city status.

Sir Tony said: “A garden city would enable Bicester to be developed as a coherent whole, as a community and town fit for the 21st century.”

“This is an idea which I have raised on numerous occasions in the House of Commons.

“I understand that Cherwell District Council is, in any event, in the process of putting forward a bid for Bicester to be considered”.

Garden cities were first developed in the early 20th century. They are designed to combine open green spaces with large numbers of homes for working people and good transport links.

Liberal Democrat spokeswoman Charlotte Kelloway said: “The garden cities will be locally led, with local people at the centre of the approach.

“We will encourage the towns along the Oxford to Cambridge rail link to come forward with plans for this scale of development, approximately 9,000 to 15,000 homes or more if an area prefers.

“There will be clear benefits for existing residents, such as express stations with higher frequency rail services.”

It follows the launch of a Government scheme in April, inviting councils to bid for funding and support to become garden cities.

Councillor Barry Wood, leader of Cherwell District Council, said: “Bicester is designated as a growth area in our Local Plan and we are currently reviewing the requirements for a bid. Bicester has many of the qualities required and already promotes many of the garden city principles which could lead to a Bicester Garden Town.”

Town mayor Lynn Pratt said: “We have got a lot of new building going on here already, what with the eco town, new homes at the Kingsmere estate, and the Graven Hill development, I am not sure we could cope with any more.

“Whether becoming a garden city would mean building more housing, or the Government instead considering what we are already doing, I do not know.”

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