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City’s Green Belt is at risk like never before
ONE of the attractions of living in Oxford is that wherever you are, you’re in proximity to rural tranquility and a busy urban centre.
But Oxford’s Green Belt is under pressure like never before – particularly to the north of the city where plans are afoot for plenty of development.
Oxford City Council plans a “northern gateway” of homes and businesses while a new train station – for which land is now being cleared for – will be built between Kidlington and Oxford.
But there have also been calls to build around Begbroke, expanding the existing university science park and bringing more homes to the area.
Could Kidlington one day end up like Botley – part of the Vale of White Horse District – and be separated from Oxford by just a thin administrative line?
And if so, would that be something the people Kidlington might want?
Kidlington’s growth in the early half of the 20th century led to it becoming the largest village in Europe but the creation of the Oxford Green Belt in the late 1950s prevented its growth to the south and stopped it from meeting Oxford in the middle.
Oxford was one of the first cities to respond to the Minister of Housing and Local Government Duncan Sandys’ suggestion in 1955 that Green Belts should be introduced to give extra protection from development within it.
The local planning authorities at that time – Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council and Berkshire County Council – set about defining an Oxford Green Belt.
In the end its inner boundary was drawn fairly tightly around the built-up area of the city and it extended outwards for some five to six miles in every direction.
It includes the area around Kidlington but not the village itself.
But more than half a century later these boundaries are being put to the test.
Six years ago, Oxford University proposed building thousands of homes on a 368-acre greenfield site between Kidlington and Yarnton.
The city council has now begun drawing up its plans for the 100-acre Northern Gateway development to create 3,000 jobs and 200 homes and will be put on land between the A40, A34 and A44 on the cusp of the Green Belt boundary.
City council officers are also considering whether to include the site occupied by the Pear Tree services and park and ride on the other side of the A44.
Meanwhile, well within the Green Belt, Chiltern Railways is set to build Oxford Parkway station, the first new railway station to open in Oxfordshire since 1935, which will be next to the Water Eaton park and ride.
And earlier this month an independent report commissioned by Oxford University and Science Oxford concluded: “The whole of this area offers tremendous potential to create a dynamic interface between the university and corporate research facilities and creative new businesses.
“It could enable the expansion of engineering and other applied sciences and also provide much needed university-related housing.”
This would mean sacrificing large portions of the Green Belt to the north of Oxford.
Helen Marshall, the director of the Oxfordshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “The point about the Green Belt is its openness and its permanence. It not only stops urban sprawl but protects the historic setting of Oxford itself.
“Unfortunately, the area of Green Belt north of Oxford is at risk of getting nibbled away as a result of a long campaign by the university and Merton College, both of which own land in the area, and a city council which is keen to set precedents for extension into the Green Belt.
“The so-called Kidlington Gap is under real pressure, but is vital in maintaining the village as a separate entity with its own character, rather than getting swallowed up by the creep of the city.
“Cherwell District Council has announced a limited review of the Green Belt boundaries in this area and CPRE will strongly resist any significant changes.
“Once this countryside is lost, it cannot be replaced.”
But city council leader Bob Price, below, pointed to the economic benefits of the developments, which feature in its long-term policies for development in the area.
He said of the science park: “The opportunity to locate new housing nearby would be a big factor in attracting the scientists, engineers and technicians that will be needed for both the gateway and Begbroke developments.
“The new Water Eaton Parkway station should open the possibility of new train and ride bus services for people working in Headington and Cowley as well as the city centre and could be a significant factor in reducing car usage and congestion around Oxford.”
Cherwell District Council covers the golf course, science park and planned station. Leader Barry Wood was not available for comment.
One of the few areas of land which will remain as a buffer zone for the one mile which separates Kidlington and Oxford is the North Oxford Golf Club, owned by Oxford University Press, Exeter College and Merton College.
And both OUP and Exeter have said they have no intention of developing the 106-year-old golf club while the club itself says it is not planning on going anywhere soon.
But for the people of Kidlington the issue is literally closer to home and Kidlington Parish Council member Chris Pack says the village jealously guards its status as being separate to Oxford.
He said: “We have always been in favour of the train station and we think it is the right thing for this area and for Kidlington in particular.
“But we have not been happy with the Northern Gateway and have expressed our feelings in the past.
“We are very happy to have Oxford as our immediate neighbour and it is a very important centre of employment for a lot of people who live in Kidlington but it is very important that the Green Belt between Kidlington and North Oxford isn’t developed to protect against urban sprawl.”
Perhaps they could ask the good people of Botley whether encroachment by Oxford is a good thing or not.
Botley, which is now considered by many to be a suburb of Oxford, is administratively in the Vale of the White Horse and separated from the city only by Seacourt Stream.
Andrew Pritchard, chairman of North Hinksey Parish Council, said: “It is obviously quite convenient for people that they can live in a slightly more rural atmosphere but still be relatively close to Oxford.
“The bread has got butter on one side and jam on the other. We would like to think we get the best of both worlds.”
The benefits and disadvantages of being attatched of Oxford are hardly clear cut but the future for that stretch of Green Belt is far less clear, particularly if a review of it goes ahead.
Kidlington maybe a village now, but the dividing line between village and suburb is getting narrower and at the moment its only one mile wide.
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