It may come as a surprise to most people in Bicester but Cherwell Council is in the middle of a review of its Local Plan which will cover the period to 2050. The previous version of the plan, some 6 years ago, allocated over 10,000 additional houses and 345 acres of industrial land to Bicester giving us the largest growth of any settlement in the District. Between 2015 and 2030, the population was forecast to grow from 30,000 in 2011 to over 50,000 by 2031. Since the County as a whole was expected to accommodate 100,000 houses by 2031, Bicester alone will provide 10% of the County total.
Given the impact of current development on the physical and social environment of the town, its worth asking how much more development Bicester will have to take over the 20 years from 2030 to 2050. The new plan will define what it is and where it will be located so what do we know about the likely scale of development Bicester might be expected to take?
Looking forward to 2050, the biggest influence on new development will be something called the ‘Oxford- Cambridge Arc Spatial Framework’. Cutting through the jargon, this plan is a Government inspired wheeze for high-tech fuelled growth between Oxford and Cambridge delivering over 2m jobs and 1.3m houses.
Originally, the idea was to build an expressway between Oxford and Cambridge to support the development. Thanks to local pressure from protest groups across the ‘arc’, of which the Stop the Expressway movement which we supported locally was one, this notion to pump yet more CO2 into the atmosphere at enormous cost was dropped. But the Government is still wedded to the scale of growth. (so much for Levelling Up?)
Its important for two reasons. First, Bicester is one of the towns on the ‘arc’ and will no doubt have to take yet more development and second, once this ‘framework’ is finished in 2023, the new Cherwell Local Plan will be required to take it into account. That is, the District Council and people of Cherwell and Bicester residents in particular will have little or no choice in the matter.
The Oxford/Bicester end of the arc, the Oxfordshire sub-region as its called, is expected to accommodate 312,00 houses more than the 60,000 currently planned. At current rates of population growth, that’s an additional 500,000 people! Since Bicester is on the arc and being promised high tech low impact jobs as well, if we take 10% of this additional housing and population, the town would have to double, from 50,000 in 2030 to 100,000 by 2050.
And forgive my cynicism but the majority of the industrial development around Bicester so far is warehousing and distribution with low density employment. Our ‘Business Park’ south of Tesco’s, described as a ‘Living Labs Test Site’ with an Eco Zone and Corporate HQ Hub, is still only an advert on a billboard after 5 years.
In previous articles, I’ve noted how the social and community development necessary to support Bicester’s growth is sadly lacking. We have any number of impressive descriptions, Garden Town and Healthy Town amongst them but the reality is congestion, pollution and piecemeal planning so its important that the people of Bicester speak up and have our say.
The current phase of Local Plan consultation started on the 29th September and runs until the 10th November. The Bicester options are in Chapter 6 of the ‘Developing our Options’ document and it says that “Due to its location and past role in accommodating development” it’s a potential location for future development too.
The options for locating housing and employment growth in Bicester are ridiculously trite – asking whether to focus on green field sites to the north, south, east or west of the town or a combination of any! And then asking for people to suggest specific sites for development in a ‘call for sites’ – whether specific or mere suggestions. Whatever happened to the Garden Town?
You can find the document on the Cherwell website at the following address https://www.cherwell.gov.uk/info/83/local-plans/729/planning-for-cherwell—local-plan-review/3