by Chris Church (co-founder of WWCC and community planning consultant)
So, for the second time in two years, we face plans for the wholesale redevelopment of Botley. As we consider these new Mace plans it may be worth remembering what we did after the victory in December 2014.
We spent some time consulting on and agreeing a vision of what we do actually want. Some people dismissed this as a waste of time, but both Vale Council and Mace have used it – in some cases rather out of context.
You can see it in full here, but the key points are simple. We want to see the new local centre not just as a commercial ‘hub’ but as a heart for our community. We want this to be a good place to meet, to do business, to shop and eat, and to live, grow up and grow old. We also want it to be a safe and attractive place.
So when we look at the plans let’s consider the impacts, the building heights, the new homes and the disruption. But let’s also consider how far this new design helps deliver on that vision.
Beyond that, let’s think about how times are changing. Two years ago Doric could peddle the idea that a superstore was needed to act as an ‘anchor’ for a new development. We said that this was rubbish and we’ve been proved right. All over the UK superstores are off the agenda and smaller stores are back. One challenge that Botley will face is actually attracting people to a new development, as Waitrose, Aldi and the new Westgate draw people in towards Oxford. We can’t afford to have a new development with empty shops, as has been seen in Abingdon, where shoppers went elsewhere during reconstruction and didn’t return.
That’s just one more reason why we need to deliver on that vision – to make this a good place to meet and live as well as shop. Central Botley as a place to live is one of the key issues for the new development. Oxfordshire’s housing needs are desperate and widely recognised. Building homes above shops with good transport links makes far more sense than putting them on green field sites or in small villages. One of the key changes to the plans that we should be pushing for is fewer student flats and more homes for key workers.
It is of course the case that at the core of this and most other development debates in Oxford is the continuing and unsustainable growth of the city and the region, fuelled by the rapid expansion of the universities. The stress that this puts on the most vulnerable points (such as the A34 as it passes Botley) is clear. We need to engage with this wider debate, but we should also recognise that there are problems that need answers now. A growing city needs workers, and it needs homes for those people.
We are facing plans for a development that may last fifty years or more, only a mile and half from the centre of a major city that is by many standards thriving. We need to be clear that Mace understand this. We must push them and Vale to deliver changes where necessary. They must deliver something that will meet needs now and in the future, rather than simply generate a high return for investors. Any new development also needs to meet the highest standards in environmental quality that are needed to help tackle a changing climate and which future generations will expect to be the norm. Our councillors and planning officers need to join us in demanding the very best for us, for Botley and for the future.