by Ruth Deech (Baroness Deech of Cumnor)
Botley is like a much loved relative. Faded, yes, but surprisingly up-to-date and always ready to help out and join in on all sorts of occasions. We certainly would not put a “do not resuscitate” notice on her, move her into a tower block or foist unwelcome lodgers on her
Botley shopping needs a facelift, and the empty office block should be renovated or removed. Other than that, it is one of the most useful life-support systems one could want. From undertakers to Polish deli, from supermarkets to post office, from barber to banks, the whole of life can be catered for – apart from fashion (that would be nice). The developers clearly do not care about the lifestyle of the local residents and remind me of the greedy relatives who want to take the elderly well-off aunt to Zurich for euthanasia.
I have objected repeatedly to the Vale about the planned hotel and the student residences. I have given them the letter from Oxford University stating that the university has no interest in and would not want students living in Botley. The developers have ignored the already plentiful supply of student rooms in Oxford: the colleges have a “live-in” policy, that is, they try, and in most cases succeed, in housing within their own property all their students, and in particular they make sure that students arriving from abroad are allocated a room. Many new student residences have been built in the centre of the city recently, and a few students always want to live away from college in any case, but with friends of their own choosing, usually from their own college or subject of study. The idea put forward by Mace that random students, whether graduates, undergraduates or even language students (much younger and here only for a few weeks) could all muck in together, move in and out together on set dates, and live without cars, at rents higher than those charged by colleges is absurd. Likewise lecturers, or visiting professors from abroad, who want to live in the centre and need cars. Moreover, were the student blocks to be built in the concrete wilderness that is planned, student life would inevitably spill out onto the open spaces, and so there would be restaurants and “night life” that the developers think appeal to students but are definitely not what we want as locals.
Their notions about transport are ridiculous and inaccurate as well. We who have lived here for years know that it can take an hour to get to Headington (a destination for Brookes’ students) and that there is no direct bus connection to north Oxford (University students’ destination). The buses are few enough and the prospect of hundreds of students and maybe even hotel guests cramming on to them at rush hours is simply anti-social. The developers have not done their homework on student demand or transport. Nor have they considered clearly how we, the locals, will get to Botley for a light shopping without having to park in a multi-storey with tickets. Ease of access is crucial at the moment and that will go. I cannot imagine how disabled shoppers would cope. Take away ease of access and one might as well continue on to Waitrose or even to the city centre. Then there is the sheer ugliness of the proposed buildings, their overbearing height and lack of architectural attractiveness.
For the developers, it is all about a return on their money; for us it is the death of the familiar. Already planning blight is leading to several empty units, and a creeping desolation behind Elms Parade. They want to wear us with wound by wound until we give up. Time for the Vale to stand up for the interests of its residents, and not to be seduced by the prospect of financial gain. Given the new Westgate and the other developments along Botley Road, if they destroy the cosy convenience of Botley shopping, no phoenix will ever arise again from its ashes.