The proposed Weston Otmoor eco-town would have a damaging impact on neighbouring towns if it were built, according to a damning independent report published today.
The eco-settlement would threaten the futures of both Bicester and Kidlington, draining away investment and putting at risk the prospect of growth.
Major development schemes and even spending on schools would all be threatened if faced with competition from a new eco-settlement on the A34/M40 junction, according to the Government-funded study.
The hard-hitting report into the the economic and social impact of creating a 15,000-home settlement near Weston-on-the-Green was commissioned by the Department for Communities and Local
Government, Oxfordshire County Council, Cherwell District Council and the South East England Development Agency (Seeda).
Its conclusion that Weston Otmoor would adversely affect its two biggest neighbours could prove crucial as the eco-town selection process enters a vital phase, with the final shortlist expected in
The report by the consultant Arup & Partners says that Weston Otmoor would compete with Bicester and Kidlington, rather than complement future growth on which their prosperity depends.
“The scale of growth envisaged at the eco-town must mean that it will both absorb and displace growth,” says the report, with new leisure facilities and job opportunities planned for Bicester all
put at risk.
It says: “Most recently there have been tentative signs that Bicester is reaching a turning point in its economic fortunes, with significant new developments in the pipeline, including new business
space and leisure facilities. It is these improved fortunes that are potentially most vulnerable to the eco-town, or other developments north of Oxford.
“The scale and proximity of Weston Otmoor to Bicester may have a destabilising effect on Bicester’s local primary care services, as it would directly compete for investment and may have
implications for new infrastructure already planned for Bicester.”
The report also provides a major boost to Cherwell District Council’s alternative proposal to create up to 5,000 green homes on the north-western edge of Bicester, stating: “It is not clear that
Weston Otmoor is the only or best option for meeting additional growth objectives in this part of Oxfordshire.”
Cherwell has now taken on a planning consultant to work on its scheme for an eco-suburb on land at Howes Lane and Lords Lane.
The scheme became a surprise addition to the Government’s eco- town shortlist at the end of last year.
Cherwell leader Barry Wood said the report echoed the council’s concerns about the eco-town.
He said: “We have said Weston Otmoor was bad news for Bicester right from the start.”
But he said it would be a serious error to regard the report as “a final nail in Weston Otmoor’s coffin”, adding: “We have certainly not seen the last of Weston Otmoor because of this report.”
Parkridge, the firm which is behind the Weston Otmoor scheme, said the report failed to recognise the contributions an eco-town would make to the local economy, including improved rail links and
improvements to junction nine of the M40.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government, said: “No decisions have been taken on which bids will go forward to the final shortlist.
“We have already made clear that Weston Otmoor and the Cherwell proposal couldn't both make the final shortlist.”
Paul Lovejoy, Seeda’s director of strategy, said: “We remain sceptical about whether the Weston Otmoor eco-town proposals are the right solution.”