Westgate development – response to outline planning application

Our response to the Outline Planning Application for redevelopment of Westgate

30 October 2013

Ref: 13/02557/OUT

Detail: Demolition of southern part of Westgate Centre, 1-14 Abbey Place and multi-storey car park, retention of library, refurbishment of remainder of the existing Westgate Centre and construction of a retail-led mixed use development together providing A1 (retail), A2 (finance and professional services) and/or A3 (restaurants and cafes) and/or A4 (public house, etc.) and/or A5 (hot food takeaways) uses, C3 (residential) use and D2 (amenity and leisure) uses, public toilets, associated car and cycle parking, shopmobility facility, servicing and access arrangements together with alterations to the public highway.Westgate Centre And Adjacent Land Encompassing the existing Westgate Centre and land bounded by Thames St, Castle Mill Stream, Abbey Place, Norfolk St, Castle St, Bonn Square, St Ebbes St, Turn Again Lane and Old Greyfriars St. 

Transport issues:

We note with that the transport assessment analyses current visitors to the commercial centre of the city by number and by modal split for journey, and predicts a 24% or 30% increase as a consequence of the Westgate Centre redevelopment. We are concerned that the following conclusions are developed on the basis of the assumption that the modal split will remain the same as at present. This suggests that car-borne visits will increase by 7%-8.5%, or between 172 and 222 additional vehicles per peak hour; traffic congestion and unacceptable air quality are already serious problems for the city centre area, and this level of traffic increase would not, as suggested, have an insignificant effect on these problems. The reduction in parking provision compared with current availability for the proposed development suggests that pressure on alternative parking sites will be significantly increased; this issue does not appear to have been considered.

The transport assessment gives no consideration of likely circumstances, or the consequences of the development at points further into the future, i.e. likely traffic growth for all modes of transport.

The projected increase in bus usage, of between 14% and 19% appears to have been addressed only by discussion with the bus operators who express confidence that the increased demand can be responded to. Such an unplanned solution is clearly unsatisfactory.

The absence of any detailed analysis of the implication for service schedules on existing routes, or potential new routes is a serious omission. The approach seems to be that bus stops will be fitted in wherever space can be found, and it is hoped that bus services can be scheduled to meet whatever level of demand might materialise, regardless of other constraints or consequences, locally or more remotely. This kind of aspirational ad hoc solution is not acceptable, particularly since issues of congestion and its consequences are already a serious problem at locations all around the city centre.

There is reference to Castle Street acting as a ‘bus interchange’; however, this would be bus-to-bus only, and the reference is misleading in the light of the City and County Council’s evident intention that a proper transport hub and inter-modal transport interchange will be provided at the new rail station development.

The absence of any provision for buses west-bound in Castle Street to turn right towards the station means that access to the new rail station transport hub is convoluted, and traffic along part of Thames Street would be increased by vehicles having to travel southwards from Castle Street before being able to return northwards, via the proposed new roundabout at the south end of Thames Street, on the parallel carriageway.

The proposals for traffic management on Speedwell Street and Thames Street, and the 90o corner at the west end of Castle Street are very complex and will lead to significantly increased volumes of traffic, and greater difficulty for pedestrians and cyclists making journeys north-south, e.g. on National Cycle Route 5, and from the existing and proposed future residential developments to the south of Thames Street. The proposals illustrated appear inconsistent with, indeed, completely contrary to the objectives of the City Council as stated in its consultation documents relating to the Oxpens development site, of transforming the character of Thames Street from its current vehicle-dominated condition, to provide a pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly environment which eliminates the division of these parts of the city.

The absence of consideration of the effects, not only of additional traffic generation associated with the Westgate redevelopment, but of the proposed diversion of coach and bus services such as to London and the airports is also concerning. Reference is made to County Council proposals to re-configure Frideswide Square as a suggestion that the re-routing of these services through the square will make this arrangement satisfactory, but the re-configuration proposals are currently suspended pending resolution of a solution for the railway station reconstruction, and, in any event, routing vehicles currently regarded as of the most polluting class through one of the city’s long-term pollution hot-spots would clearly be counter to the City Council’s current objectives (as contained in the Air Quality Action Plan currently in preparation).

The consideration given to the potential of rail services to make a significant change in the travel habits is seriously limited. Rail travel is increasing nationally and locally at an unprecedented rate, and massive rail infrastructure improvements and the provision of a new station and transport interchange at Oxford will certainly accelerate this trend. Existing rail services include for good access not only from surrounding cities, but also from more local conurbations and the regional hinterland, and new and improved services, together with a new station at Water Eaton are shortly to be introduced via the Chiltern Line. Further ahead, the development of ‘East-West Rail’ services will reach fruition, and there is also the possibility of new services along previous, but currently disused rail corridors. No consideration has been given to any of these issues, either in assessing traffic effects, or in evaluating pedestrian movements around the proposed new development.

The absence of a cohesive transport strategy for the city centre, but also for the whole of the city and its surrounding region is unfortunate, but it is clear that the new Westgate development will have serious implications not only for the environment of the immediately-surrounding streets, but across the city and beyond. Indeed, these implications may be seen not as a consequence of the development, but as part of its objectives, to promote the commercial success of the city centre. It is thus essential that much more detailed, and wider analysis of the effects and consequences of the proposed development is carried out.

Development design proposals

We have serious concerns that the design proposals continue to be inward-looking, with limited active frontages to the external elevations of large parts of Blocks B1, B2 and B3. We consider that this raises the risk of the Westgate centre being perceived as an island within the city, rather than as an integral and fully-connected element of the urban design. Coupled with the ‘traffic barrier’ effects of the large number of buses in Castle Street, and especially in Thames Street and Speedwell Street, the considerable lengths of inactive frontages will contribute to the severance of the adjacent areas of the city centre.

We note that large parts of the development at upper ground, first and second floor levels are scheduled to have significant amounts of leisure use included. If all of these were to be occupied for leisure purposes, the character of the development would be substantially different from an essentially retail environment, with a range of consequences which appear not to have been given consideration.

In the light of the concerns expressed above, we consider that this application is premature and / or provides insufficient evidence of the provision of satisfactory design and transportation solutions.