by Jon Rowland, local resident, Neighbourhood Plan participant and Director of an Urban Design Practice
The ‘imposed solution’
There are two ways of developing a site. One way is to impose a solution based on short-term economic benefits for the developer and its partners. This is a top-down approach that we in Botley recognise. We have seen a patchwork of actions that brought us Doric’s approach to our Local Centre, an SPD, and culminated in this second planning application.
The brief for this current application is based around the provision of a large number of student rooms. No workplaces other than retail, no educational or health benefits, just less sunlight, smaller rooms, and taller buildings. No consideration of the role that this Local Centre can play as an active community hub to raise the social and economic capital of North Hinksey.
This plan takes as its starting point total redevelopment, and then carves out from the mass of development routes for pedestrians to move through. In other words the current masterplan indicates that the public spaces have become residual places that are minimal, and designed purely to direct people from one shop to another. Where is the Town Square set out in the SPD? Where is the spill-out space around the Community Centre – too much space given over to cars and not people? Where are the sheltered spots to sit in the sun? Its all very well talking about green roofs and terraces but that is all private space – not for you or me.
The collaborative approach
The second way is more collaborative. It would aim to establish the public spaces and to design the appropriate development around them creating a synergy between the space, the uses, the ambiance and the social values. This might result in spaces for conviviality and activities – whether for outdoor performance or stalls for local products. The challenge is to establish what we might call smart governance – listening to the community, because the community will be there picking up the pieces after the politicians and developers have gone.
What does this entail? Not the imposition of a set of Council objectives, but respecting the views of the Community and considering the lifetime of a development that is integrated with its surrounds . What will Botley be like in 30 – 50 years time? Will the local authority embark on another ‘Demolition Derby’? Development has to meet a level of sustainable performance – and that does not just mean energy resource efficiency, It means thinking about such aspects as management and stewardship – who will look after the development and make sure the retail pattern reflects the evolving family profile of North Hinksey?
We need public spaces to suit the diverse local population in our area; internal and external space for functions, spaces to sit in the sun, places for families with young toddlers to meet, and safe for school children cycling or walking home from Botley Primary School. Spaces that respond to the community’s aspirations. We have all seen or read of the impact that poor planning and design has on behaviour, health and well-being. We know that these factors relate to scale, comfort, sun and daylight. We want spaces that are uplifting and beautiful, not the dark, windswept and uninspiring residual ones proposed by Mace and Make.
A third way – an exemplar in ‘place-making’
Is there a third way? It’s not too late to put pressure on the Council to negotiate amendments to the current proposals. Councillors can help too. The proposed development should promote a more positive ethos. Let’s re-prioritise and start with creating better public spaces – something that is currently missing – and build an appropriate mix of uses around them. Let the new Botley Local Centre be an exemplar in ‘place-making’! It needs to be future-proofed. That means development has to allow change. It needs to be flexible – unlike the student cubicles along long corridors. It is this fluidity that is also missing.
A balanced community
Our new local centre needs to be more mixed up, joined up and tightened up, with a better choice of homes for down-sizers, key workers and local families. In other words a balanced community. ‘Make the place’ and the rest will follow! A more collaborative approach can only help. Maximising the long term social value to the community, and economic value to the developer is where best value lies. If that means a bit more listening by Mace, a bit more concern and flexibility by the Council then that can only help. A best cash result is not necessarily ‘best value for Botley’. We can all envisage a better Botley. If we can envisage it, we can do it. Give Botley a heart! Submit your comments to the Council and include the issue of place-making and the public space.