The Oxfordshire Green Party has responded to the consultation on the Oxpens Masterplan, saying that not enough land has been allocated for housing, and that we need more work on the flooding risk in the area.
Housing and other allocated uses
Given Oxford’s housing problems we consider this brownfield site is an enormous opportunity to provide much needed housing, especially affordable housing, and we applaud the decision for 50% to be affordable housing.
However we feel that far too much land has been allocated for business, university and other uses. The reason behind this seems to be to achieve high development returns. We are not convinced there is a reasonable argument for this on the residual railway land. One of our members, as a city planning officer nearly forty years ago, had a series of meetings to discuss the way forward to develop this land and despite this and further on-going initiatives, plans and discussions this land, and land adjoining it, has largely remained in a state involving very little economic return. Why now is their pressure for the highest returns at the expense of Oxford’s overwhelming need for more housing?
We would also question why so much land needs to be allocated for student housing.
Research and our submissions we made for the Sites and Housing DPD by us indicated that already far too much land had been allocated for student housing throughout the city at the expense of ordinary and affordable housing and in excess of that required in core planning policies.
We understand that building adjacent to the railway line has problems but the Masterplan explicitly states
The site for student accommodation has sufficient space to accommodate residential apartment buildings set in landscaped gardens that can insulate the remainder of the site from the railway line.
If this is true we feel ordinary housing could be acceptable.
Flooding and Oxpen's field
We are concerned that a detailed Masterplan involving a specified number of housing units, building heights and allocations for a variety of business and other uses can be embarked upon before there has been serious and definitive work done on the flooding implications. To do so will give a significant presumption in favour of this form and amount of development to the detriment of the full consideration of the implication and choices surrounding flooding precautions and remediation.
We read with concern in the Strategic Environment Assessment the following:
The technical work undertaken to support the SPD found that there are sufficient uncertainties associated with the current representation of flooding at Oxpens to cast doubt on the EA’s Flood Map. This means that the impact of development upon water levels and flood risk is not fully understood. As such the likelihood or geographical scale of the effect, its significance, permanence or reversibility could not be predicted or evaluated.
The technical work concluded that the existing understanding of flood water and flood risk in the vicinity of the Oxpen’s site is rather rudimentary and on that basis, to either rule out the sketch Masterplan or definitely say that it is technically feasible would be wholly unsubstantiated.
We consider the scale and extent of development can only be worked up with a complete study of the flooding implications for two vital reasons. Firstly immediately across the bank and downstream is South Oxford a heavily populated part of Oxford at significant flood risk. The effect of the proposals on this area must be fully understood before a definitive masterplan is drawn up which will act strongly as a presumption in favour of the amount and distribution of development
Secondly the implications of flood remediation and compensation on the ecological, aesthetic character of existing landscape of the riverside and its trees and vegetation needs to be given as much attention in any plan as the plan gives to the form of the built environment. It is not at all clear from the plan how flood mitigation will affect this fragile and sensitive riverine area through flood mitigation work, reshaping and re-levelling.
Views into the site: view cones
We are very concerned about so little information or attention given in this plan into views into the site and have read the following paragraphs.
The prominence of this site in views of the City Centre from the western hills, and in the City Council’s protected view cones in particular has been be explored by Oxford City Council officers, including the Heritage Officer.
Site visits have informed the Officers conclusion that the three most important view points from which development at Oxpens will be visible are Port Meadow, Raleigh Park, and Boars Hill. These are official view cone points and will be used by Officers in determining the impact of new development at the Oxpens site on the spires and historic landscape.
Another important location for views is Hinksey Golf Course. Although this is not an official view cone location members of the golf course may view Oxford from this location.
Following the City Council’s debacle over Roger Dudman Way we are extremely dubious about what is meant by explorations by the City Heritage officer. The document itself shows this major eyesore in the view from Port Meadow. It serves to illustrate the awful effect this planning decision by the City Council has had on heritage, landscape and townscape, and the lack of proper exploration of heritage implications by the Council.
It is clear that the development of the site and of the Westgate development could have enormous impact on the views from Rayleigh Park, Boars Hill and Hinksey Heights. The wooded setting needs to remain dominant and the views are already partly compromised by existing re-development and an abundance of cranes. We would question whether a development up to five storeys would be too intrusive.
Views to out of the City from Saint Georges Tower and the Castle Mound are likely to be compromised by the proposed height and form as well.
The views do not show any visual representation of the effects of such heights on the city townscape and landscape which in our view is essential to the preparation of a sound Masterplan. Until this is done accurately and transparently we do not think it right to confirm a Masterplan detailing building heights and possible block sizes which could also be intrusive viewed from both inside and outside the City.
The scope for contamination on a former Railway Yard is significant and we do not think it appropriate to leave assessment of it to a later stage.
OXFORDSHIRE GREEN PARTY
Chair: Sushila Dhall
Secretary: Judy Chipchase