'Village for elderly' planned for Boars Hill

First published in News The Oxford Times: Photograph of the Author by , Oxford Times Chief Reporter. Call me on 01865 425434

PLANS have been unveiled to create a £20m 'village' on Boars Hill to provide homes for 130 elderly people.

The scheme would see a new community created on a highly sensitive Green Belt site that has been the subject of a seven-year planning row.

The 11-acre site was formerly owned by Warnborough College. Its Edwardian buildings, including the Bishop's Palace and Yatscombe Hall, which was gutted in a fire, have all been demolished.

The company behind the plan, Richmond Villages, specialises in creating purpose-built care communities. It will be seeking to build three large new buildings, which it says will replicate the character of the original buildings in "a contemporary idiom". In addition to a wide choice of accommodation for its elderly residents, Richmond Villages says facilities would be created for members of the local community, These would include a village shop, a restaurant, coffee shop, a library, hairdressers, therapy salon and meeting rooms for local clubs and societies.

Planning permission was earlier granted by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott for 14 flats, two cottages and a gate house as well as the restoration of Yatscombe Hall.

The scale of what is now being proposed is certain to spark strong opposition, at a time when the Green Belt is being seen as under mounting threat from housing developments.

But the company points to the fact that the site has over years been derelict and that it would provide "a significant increase in the amount of nursing and care accommodation in the Oxford area".

Robin Hughes, development director of Richmond Villages, said: "We acknowledge that it is a Green Belt area, but the site was built on before it became derelict. It is really a brownfield site that sits in the Green Belt."

He hoped the village could open in early 2009.

A public exhibition of the plans is being held at Sunningwell Village Hall on Sunday and Monday (10am to 4.30 pm).

The original proposals to build flats on the site, from Dramay Holdings, was the subject of five planning applications, two public inquiries and two High Court hearings. But it appears the end of the saga may not yet be in sight.

Dr Rosie Allen, of Oxford Preservation Trust, said: "It is far too intensive for this critically sensitive site."

Yatscombe Hall was once home of the classics scholar Prof Gilbert Murray, who entertained such guests there as Gandhi, Einstein and T.E. Lawrence. The Victorian Bishop's Palace, which was ransacked and occupied by squatters during the long planning disputes, had served as an unofficial residence of Oxford bishops until the 1950s.

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