Oxfordshire Green Party have examined the latest outline application for redeveloping Westgate. Our views on the current application remain largely unchanged from the previous comments to the Westgate Alliance. We do not consider this a sustainable proposal, and its disadvantages outweigh by far its benefits.
This application has been justified as acceptable in the planning statement as sustainable development under the National Planning framework because of its supposed regenerative effects and strategic planning benefits. We consider these regenerative effects are grossly exaggerated (Paragraph 8.205 of the Planning Statement)
For the reasons in the earlier response we do not think this proposal will prove to be particularly viable in retail or leisure use terms or provide substantial economic benefits.
We do not think it will lead to any great net increase in employment, certainly not 3,400 jobs. If it in any way succeeds, it will take business and jobs from established retailing and leisure facilities elsewhere in the city as outlined in our earlier response. We note the principal that development in one area may displace footfall and jobs from another so we would always be interested in ‘net jobs’ not ‘brochure figures’ originating from developers.
We think it is jumping the gun a bit to say it will provide several buildings of high quality until it is possible to see the detailed design. Moreover the massing and size of the buildings, the cutting down of trees and its impact on views into Oxford gives us every reason to expect something which can only diminish Oxford as a heritage and landscape asset. High quality also means to us carbon free construction, energy sourced from renewables with on-site use of microgeneration and fully integrated project management which ensures all contractors involved in the construction are equally committed to the very highest standard.
It does little to add to the housing stock in the city. Although it has increased the possible number of housing units to a possible 122 units, the original figure of 27 is still in the range of possibility. This which would only give a net increase of 13 to a hypothetical 108 units, allowing for demolitions. As we have stated in our earlier response housing is the most important priority in Oxford, can be classified as the most important part of any sustainable development for Oxford, particularly if it is affordable housing, the amount of which is not specified in this application. Affordable housing should also be no less than 50% of the housing provided.
We are very dubious of the increased legibility and permeability. True the existing area is completely unsympathetic to the historic character of Oxford through very poor planning in the past. It is therefore fairly simple to argue it is an improvement and the incorporation of pedestrian squares might be considered such an improvement. However it’s massing and scale and permeability still do not reflect, enhance or conserve the proper character and identity of Oxford.
Our other concerns include:
Transport and Pollution
We do not consider this application can be considered separately from a decision as to whether to reroute buses out of Queen Street. We support the removal of buses from Queen Street in principle but recognise that this is likely to involve increased bus traffic and increased pollution in Saint Aldates which the development is likely to exacerbate. We want to see the pollution and traffic problems properly addressed before redevelopment of the Westgate area is given the go-ahead.
We find the Transport Study unsatisfactory. We would question the assumption that the modal split will remain the same after redevelopment. Taking the desire on the part of the developers to claw back shoppers from surrounding shopping areas outside the city, car borne shoppers would be those most encouraged if this were to take place. They will also not be particularly attracted if they have to use surplus Park and Ride, if the existing centres they are using are at present allowing them direct access by car. We also consider that the assumption that car shoppers will stay longer does not sit well with the idea that this development will increase retail trade. It is more likely that retail trade will be increased by more people coming and using the car park with greater turnover frequency and spending more. This will increase traffic congestion and pollution and queuing for city centre car parks. It will also have greater detrimental effects on traffic on the Abingdon and Botley Roads which service and adjoin substantial residential areas. In order to have any credibility this study should highlight far more thoroughly the implications of other scenarios such as we have put down here.
The Environmental Statement itself states there are likely to be adverse effects on air pollution from traffic and car emissions and some of these will be over and above existing danger levels. It seems to rely on a Travel Plan that will encourage car sharing to somehow avoid this. The citizens of Oxford deserve a definite way of avoiding pollution rather than a plan that is unlikely to be in any way robust. There is no particular mention of pollution hot spots outside the city centre and the implication on hot spots like the Abingdon Road Weirs Lane junction. We also consider that NO2 levels projected in the first exercise are totally unrealistic and the ‘sensitivity’ projection is by far more meaningful in terms of what has actually been happening up to now. Air pollution, primarily from traffic, is killing about 24,000—30,000 people per year so traffic impact assessment for the Westgate development needs to ensure beyond doubt new facilities are accessible by foot, bicycle and bus and that extra car parking is minimal. The pollution position on all residential streets including Thames Street, Abingdon Road and Botley Road must be improved to safe levels.
We do not think the supposed benefit of a new more direct cycle route is in fact particularly beneficial. As it still means pushing a bicycle through a pedestrian area during shopping hours , it is unlikely to be considered preferential to using Queen Street.
Construction is going to be a horrendous experience. Nearby housing will suffer from dust and disturbance. Construction traffic is estimated to be as high as 50 two way traffic movements per hour during lower ground floor construction. Most will come probably down Abingdon Road suggesting a construction vehicle will be nearly continually passing this way at that stage. Cranes will disrupt the view and historic setting of Oxford for most of the construction period.
Adverse Effects on Oxfords Character and Heritage
The Environmental Statement details the adverse effect on the two the view cones from south and west and on Headington Hill Conservation Area. We are not persuaded that the mitigation measures will be adequate and certainly not without detailed drawings. We are only too aware of the disaster at Roger Dudman Way.
The evidence given on the provision for flooding events is highly technical. However we are aware that with climate change flooding events are becoming more unpredictable. We are concerned that the so called economic benefits of the development do not sway proper consideration of flooding hazard especially as South Oxford is so close by and an area of significant flood risk. We understanding retaining tanks and possibly part green roof are suggested to mitigate possible hazards from water run-off. We are of the view that details of what these involve and their efficacy are provided if this application were to be approved and that all concerns of the Environment Agency are fully taken on board. At the moment we see flooding as a real danger and a reason to reject this application as it stands taken with all our other concerns.
As such we do not consider this a sustainable proposal, and its disadvantages outweigh by far its benefits. We think given current retail trends, and the hope for a future where a more sensitive architecture is incorporated into any redevelopment of Oxford, the building proposed if constructed will prove to be an enormous white elephant. The most sustainable development would be a housing one involving sensitively designed smaller and lower building blocks and allowing trees in the townscape.