WELCOME to the German city of Freiburg.

As a historic university city surrounded by beautiful countryside it might sound familiar.

And the comparisons do not stop there, as it is also the inspiration for Oxford’s biggest planned new suburb in a generation, Barton West .

Together with the Dutch cities of Houten and Amersfoort, which have expanded by several thousand houses over the past decade, Freiburg in south west Germany has proved to be a template for the 1,200-home development.

Michael Crofton-Briggs, the city council’s head of city development, said: “What we are doing is not building a medieval city but a 21st century suburban extension.

“The last time we did this on any scale was with Greater Leys and I don’t think we would hold our plans up and say that is a good example of development.

“Freiburg is often held up as an example of how to do it. Like Oxford it is a historic university city which has been growing since.”

The main influence has been in the layout of Barton West.

Rather than creating a development made up of a large number of small cul-de-sacs, the new estate will be a network of interlocking streets The hope is that as well as making Barton West a more inviting place and easier to get around, it will encourage people to leave their cars at home and walk or cycle.

Mr Crofton-Briggs said: “We are trying to think about what we can do to make them places where people will want to live rather than have to live.

“In terms of carbon emissions we want our homes to be doing a lot better than just the run-of-the-mill housing we have got in this city.”

In 1992 Freiburg, on the edge of the Black Forest, was named Germany’s “environment capital” for its pesticide bans and early warning system for smog. And just two years ago the British Academy for Urbanism named it The European City of the Year.

During the late 1990s a former French Army base was turned into a development for 5,000 people as a “sustainable model district”.

It uses heating supplied by renewable energy and solar technology comes as standard for most buildings. Its streets are built without parking spaces to try to limit the number of cars, while green spaces have been provided between the rows of houses and mature trees preserved.

Mr Crofton-Briggs and development company Grosvenor, which has been working on the Barton West design with the city council, have been to visit a number of other European cities.

Nicholas Falk, an urban design consultant who has been working with the city council, said: “The rate of development in Holland is rapid – yet the Dutch have also managed to deliver extremely high-quality housing schemes. The countryside has been brought into the town, using lots of mature trees, hedgerows and water to provide a much more attractive setting than the typical UK housing estate.”

But the idea has been met with scepticism from some in Barton.

Sue Holden, of Barton Community Association, said: “What they need to be doing is looking at the new development in relationship to the existing estate. They need to look at the big picture but I am sure that is what they are doing.”