269 Cowley Road Oxford Oxfordshire OX4 2AJ

17 March 2019

Redevelopment of Bartlemas Nursery Site including the removal of the existing nursery buildings and their replacement with a two and a half storey buildings to provide graduate students accommodation and warden’s flat. The proposal includes 17 student rooms with communal kitchen/diner and 13 self-contained 1 or 2 bed units. Provision of 2 disabled parking bays, bicycle and bin storage and communal amenity space.

 Further to our letter of 16 January and following a site visit by members of our Planning Group, I now write with more detailed comments on this application.

The site is well known to many of our members who have visited it, both during daylight when one appreciates the extraordinarily peaceful rural setting of the Conservation Area just off the bustle of Cowley Road, and at occasional winter night-time concerts in the Chapel, when the unlit and peaceful seclusion of the site harks back to earlier centuries in the historic evolution of Oxford and its surroundings – much of which has since been obscured by later development – and even commemorates significant events in English history only some 60 years after the Norman Conquest.

The need to preserve this atmosphere and character and the historic setting of the listed buildings was acknowledged, even before the introduction of Conservation Area legislation, when the nursery school was developed on the site.  This was principally a daytime-only usage with a discrete separate access from the Cowley Road, and of only a single storey in height: easy to screen and obviously subservient to the Farmhouse and its setting, which it did not compromise. (The exception of the chimney is now a useful aid in assessing the impact of the current much higher proposals, and the transparency of tree screening in winter)  The current Conservation Area Appraisal, and the comments of inspectors in rejecting appeals on two previous unacceptable applications for the site, confirm all this.

In our view, this current application also is unacceptable in terms of (1) the impact on the character of the conservation area; (2) the impact on the Grade II* Listed Bartlemas Farmhouse; and (3) other impacts on the area, as set out below.

Impact on the character of the conservation area

  • The proposed accommodation for 41 students would introduce a level of activity and noise which would unacceptably compromise the sense of isolation and peacefulness of the conservation area, of which the site is a significant integral part.
  • As the police report explains, the required level of night-time security lighting and other paraphernalia would introduce light pollution which would be contrary to the character of the site.
  • The proposals rely on tree screening to mitigate these effects, but such trees would have to be native species to maintain the character of the site, and these are mainly deciduous and possibly prone to disease, which would nullify the screening effect, particularly in winter when the hours of quiet darkness are most prolonged. The two and a half storey buildings proposed would generate a significant portion of the disturbances and light pollution from the upper levels where any screening is less effective.
  • The number of students accommodated would lead naturally to establishing a direct link on the north eastern side from the development to the Oriel Playing Fields, thus compromising the essential separation and character of the buffer zone between the conservation area and Sinnet Hall.

Impact on the Grade II* listed Bartlemas Farmhouse

The height and proximity of the proposed buildings to the Farmhouse, particularly when the tree screening is problematic, impose in an overbearing way on the setting of the farmhouse, and on the views from it. Buildings of the proposed style and size cannot be considered subservient or ancillary to the character of the farmhouse itself, and are out of keeping with its quiet setting.

Other impacts in the area 

Long distance views into the site  from Southfield Road would be adversely affected by the hard high roof line of the proposed buildings.

Access to the site is up a narrow lane, which now also provides the only means of access to a number of dwelling houses. As the Police report points out, the amount of activity associated with the capacity of the proposed development will cause problems of access and disturbance to these dwellings, and will require problematically large cycle provision. We also have doubts over the safety of the very narrow and not clear entrance from the lane on to the very busy Cowley Road, and the difficulty of any vehicular manoeuvring within the lane itself.

For all these reasons, we urge that the present application should be withdrawn or refused, and that a full  Conservation Area Management Plan, as proposed by the Oxford Preservation Trust, should be prepared before any further application is made. This should seek to define the parameters for the nature and size of a development on the site which would preserve  the nature and characteristics of the Conservation Area and its listed buildings, and offer the possibility of an acceptable development which would be of valuable service to Oriel College.  The advice of the Design Review Panel should also be sought as any future application is developed