Wolvercote Paper Mill Development

Comments on an exhibition showing proposals for the Wolvercote Paper Mill site.

21 March 2015

Here are the Society’s comments on an exhibition showing the latest proposals for developing the Wolvercote Paper Mill site. It was held on 27th & 28th February at The White Hart, Wolvercote.

The display boards from the exhibition are on Oxford University’s website.

1. Green belt relationship

We welcome the revised relationship to the Green Belt surroundings; this gives a much improved environment for those near the boundaries of the site.

2. First impressions

More thought needs to be given as to how the community area will ‘read’ to visitors as they approach from the entrance to the site; for example, how the parking there relates to the entrance/front elevation of the surgery, and what the ‘feel’ and proportions of the area might be like, surrounded by higher blocks.

3. Flood risk

The exhibition materials explain the causes of the significant flooding in 2007, attributing it to mis-management of the various weirs which control water levels in various parts of the river system. Apparently, the 2007 flooding was caused by allowing the water levels in the ‘water body’ pond to rise too high, leading to a breach in the bund wall on its east side. It is asserted that management of all the control structures is in the hands of the Environment Agency, which has acknowledged its responsibility and has confirmed that its latest flood risk assessment has resulted in a lower classification of risk than previously. It is asserted that no flooding occurred during 2014, when other parts of the Thames river system, and other parts of the country suffered extensive flooding. The design proposals appear not to ensure physical protection from flooding, e.g. by suitable elevation or protective bunds or walls (although no levels were indicated on plans). The suggested design solution relying on pumped drainage appears to make the system vulnerable to security of electricity supply. It is not really convincing that protection of this site from flooding is dependent upon the management capabilities and prioritisation of resources of the Environment Agency, itself subject to the vagaries of Central Government funding. Flood risk assessments do not take account of management incompetence, and the credibility of the EA in this respect is still low, however unjustly, in the aftermath of recent experiences elsewhere..

4. Foul drainage

Thames Water has apparently confirmed the adequacy of the downstream sewerage system to accept flows from this development on a gravity basis. Such assurances by Thames Water are widely regarded with suspicion in the light of anecdotal evidence of problems with sewage disposal and water supply elsewhere, such as Cutteslowe, Northway and Normandy Crescent.

5. Design

It was emphasised that the layouts shown were indicative, that they might form the basis of an outline planning application, and that detailed planning application(s) would follow, after sale of the site by the University. Whilst this approach precludes meaningful comment on the layouts or designs shown, it means that little certainty can be attached to those suggested provisions for which no specific detail is provided.

No mention was made of the design standards for any elements of the proposals. We would suggest that a design code should apply, as for significant sites elsewhere, and that road layouts and detailed design should conform to Manual for Streets 2.

The ‘Civic building’ is shown on plans, but with no details of its design or intended purpose or usage. This could be a very useful facility, but better establishment (e.g. by more local consultation) is necessary of how it might be used, managed and maintained, and hence its precise location, size and detailed design. Such details should form part of the outline application so that provision is assured.
No details were provided of the likely usage of the ’employment units’, for example by specification of planning use classes. No designs were shown which might indicate whether these units might be used, for example, as craft studios, or for car repairs. Given the fairly prominent position of these units, their appearance, both when built and during use is important to the aesthetic character of the development.

No details were provided of the proposed doctors’ surgery, nor any indication of certainty in its provision, e.g. confirmation from a medical practice of a desire to operate it. Such confirmation, and more details of its preferred location, size, layout etc. is necessary. Although provision and use of premises as a surgery may not be enforceable in planning terms, it sould be ensured by an appropriate covenant in the sale of the land.

There is a need for good mix of housing sizes and types, including some for elderly seeking smaller units within the community, as well as the maximum feasible number of affordable dwellings. Such issues should be specified early, not left to a later Reserved Matters application.

6. Transportation

All road design layouts and details should conform to Manual for Streets 2.

Design of the roads and junctions should slow through traffic past the pubs and the site entrance to a very slow speed (and ease exit from the site in the morning peak). Of the alternative junction suggestions, the mini-roundabout solution looks preferable, but there may be even better solutions.

It is likely many commuters between the development site and, for example, the Northern Gateway and hospitals via the A40 will be tempted to use cars; the present designs do not look cycle-friendly, particularly at the Wolvercote roundabout, so an excellent bus service to these destinations is essential, in addition to the existing Route 6.

Road ‘cushions’ (speed humps) on Godstow Road are probably unnecessary, given the existing level of on-street parking. If retained, this would provide sufficient traffic calming; alternative, more attractive calming measures should be considered, if necessary.
The acceptability of the development of this site is probably most importantly determined by the encouragement of alternative modes of transport to the car. The location in Wolvercote village is well suited to cycling, which should be given every encouragement. There is now unprecedented encouragement from national government, Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford City Council for a substantial mode shift to cycling and walking; policies on cycle storage are no longer appropriate, and much greater provision should be made.
Road layouts and design details on this development should prioritise pedestrians and cyclists – ‘guest cars’ should be the intention as in common Dutch practice. Little detail of road design is shown, but what is shown (e.g. for the entrance to the site) suggests accommodation of cycle traffic has been largely ignored.

Encouragement of cycling necessitates much better provision not just on the development site, but to connect with the planned routes emerging in the County Council’s LTP4 proposals. No evidence is provided of any consideration of this, or of consultation with the County officers and others (e.g. Cyclox, Oxford Pedestrians’ Association, Ramblers Association) on how cycle use and walking can really be promoted.

Two car club parking spaces were shown on plans; if alterative transport modes are to be promoted, this is probably inadequate. The logic of having the car club bays separated between the front and back of the development is obscure; a location close to the south of the site, nearer to the centre of the village would encourage wider usage. Consideration should be given to provision of electric car club parking bays.

Peter Thompson

Chairman Oxford Civic Society