Following the application for the first phase of the 500-home Oxford North development, project chairman Julian Barwick discusses why the plans are a positive for Oxford

DURING the public consultation for the Oxford North development, I have been reminded why public consultations are so important, uncovering issues both old and new as we look one way to Oxford’s illustrious past while at the same time looking ahead to where it hopes it will be in the future.

Perhaps the issue that most surprised me was the suggestion that we were trying to hide something with the new name. Oxford North is not the new Northern Gateway; it is merely the part of the Northern Gateway that we are developing, and it is the major part.

It has also been suggested we have tried to hide the fact that St John’s College is the sole investor in the project. Yet we have been clear that St John’s is the force behind the project.

What is probably confusing is that the development company is called Thomas White Oxford (St John’s, being a charity, cannot be the developer), but there is a good reason for this. Thomas White, as well as being the founder of St John’s over 450 years ago, was a great civic benefactor for both Oxford and many other parts of the country. This seemed a highly appropriate name for the development company as a key part of the proposal is a high level of investment in social benefit, bringing open spaces, jobs, homes and a major investment in new infrastructure to Oxford.

Some people do not want the new district to happen at all; others wish to see it all homes. With 480 new much needed homes, we believe we have struck the right balance of homes and places where people can work and enjoy themselves. We have looked around the world, and this is the sort of district where major international firms – who we want to attract to Oxford – want to come and set up shop. It is how people want to work nowadays, so it is what we need to offer. The fact that we would expect many of the people living in the area also to work there reduces car movements; and if they are working in Oxford they may well use the new cycle lanes we are building and improving.

Many people want to see a good number of affordable homes; we all do, and we are in discussion with the City Council about the final amount. This demand needs to be balanced by the other major social investment - £100m spent on developing infrastructure, including £30m to be spent on road, cycle and footpath improvements in the area.

We know this is much needed and people desperately want to see traffic improved. Unfortunately, the local authority does not have the money to do this, so we believe we should – and that decision has also secured nearly £6m in central government funding and potentially £10m through the Housing Infrastructure Fund, which the city would not otherwise receive. But this vital investment in infrastructure improvement means there is less money to invest in affordable housing. It is a difficult trade-off and one we are still discussing.

The main question during our public consultation has been how we are going to cope with all the extra traffic.

We are investing in improvements to the A40 and A44 corridors to provide significant additional capacity for walking, cycling and public transport, in addition to our planned upgrade at Pear Tree junction to the benefit of everybody travelling along these routes, not just the trips to Oxford North.

We will also be supporting the delivery of new bus services to serve the site and wider area, all of which will help to tackle the existing congestion in the area and accommodate the new trips.

Phase One will see the A40 improvement works including a new bus lane and cycleways, complementing Oxfordshire County’s wider strategy to deliver an outer ring of Park and Ride sites and express busways to the City.

Our central street will remain a private 20mph road primarily serving as an access to the development. The geometry has not been designed to accommodate HGV traffic, although it may be used as a through route by a limited number of car trips. Traffic modelling demonstrating this has been undertaken using both the County’s and our own models, and outputs have been agreed with officers at the County and Highways England with a Memorandum of Understanding in place.

There were understandable concerns about the capacity for additional schooling and healthcare. Again, we have been talking to the relevant authorities and have been assured that there will be sufficient capacity. As a result of the consultation, we will look into this again to seek further assurances.

Perhaps one of the most heartening parts of the consultation was the general support for the sustainable aspects of the scheme – from 23 acres of open space, including three new parks, to 40% reduced water consumption, 850 electric car charging points and 5.7 miles of new and improved cycle paths, and all of the buildings in Phase One being 100% electric. Ecologically, we believe this is a development to be proud of.

Oxford is in desperate need of homes, people have told us that during the consultation and we will provide them. Equally we need to provide accommodation for Oxford’s growing and successful economy in the key sectors of health, education and research and development. The proposal delivers these along with other social benefits to create a new urban district for Oxford.

As we submit our application, with Oxford North forecast to add circa £150 million per year in GVA to the economy, we hope that our proposal is seen as a transformational and positive addition to one of the world’s greatest cities that will benefit Oxford, the County and the UK.