Development planning: it’s not joined-up
By James McNicoll
There is a flood of consultations on developments in and around Oxford right now. Plans are being drawn up for Greater Leys, Blackbird Leys, Mill Lane Old Marston, the Neilsen site by Thornhill, Oxford North, St Frideswide Farm, land to the north of Oxford city up to Parkway Station, and land to the north of Barton Park.
Most of these developments are outside the ring road. Already those communities are relatively cut off from the city by the ring road. If you are on bike or foot it is quite a challenge to cross the bypass. Those difficulties will only be exacerbated in these new developments, cementing in inevitable car dependency for those new residents.
So, it’s a busy time for us in Cyclox, commenting on the plans and talking to developers and councils, to ensure that the sites are designed to get people walking, cycling and taking public transport.
It seems the design for each new development is prepared with little attention to what may be on the drawing board next door. Designs are well-advanced before the inconsistencies, conflicts and gaps between neighbouring developments become evident. We and other community groups are consistently pointing out these problems.
Most architects are starting to lay out developments better suited to the people who will live there, but there is poor appreciation that local amenities and services make communities: shops, employment, parks, schools, community centres, pubs. Sadly, the way Oxford approaches this subject is really outmoded. Every housing development is still treated as a dormitory from which people travel by car to each of the above facilities. Developers make their profit from what they can sell and houses with car parking attract a premium.
What incentive is there to do any of the ‘right’ things? Councils fall back on statutory plans, codes and standards but these are a confused mess. Which ones are mandatory? Which ones for guidance only? Which ones override the others? We have a plethora of requirements from county, city and district councils plus central Government and their agencies, to consider.
There are so many good intentions, but many of them are hampered by failure to plan in a joined-up way. For example, it would be wonderful to have a continuous convenient direct cycle route from Blackbird Leys to the centre of Oxford, but this can only work with controlled parking along the route.
What we need is better master planning for each area of Oxford to ensure the right facilities are provided which are accessible without the need for cars. We need to ensure that cycle and pedestrian routes are direct, convenient and safe (the acid test is: would you cycle or walk with your 6-year-old child along this route?). Lastly, we need stronger wording in our codes, standards and guidance to prevent developers riding a ‘coach and horses’ (a car-free archaic term) through them on appeal. More ‘shalls’ instead of ‘shoulds’.
Oxford is a world-class city: it deserves better. Please councils and developers, we need joined up working and joined up planning!