Chris Howells, Chair of Bicester Branch, Banbury and Bicester CLP
Chris Howells, Chair of Bicester Branch, Banbury and Bicester CLP

One of the recurring themes in these articles is the conflict between ambition for the Town and the reality in practice. A designated Garden Town, the original 2015 Local Plan for example included the Eco Town development to the Northwest of Bicester. This 6,000-home extension to the town is envisaged as comprising highly sustainable homes plus footpaths and cycleways to encourage active travel as well as workplaces, schools, community facilities and plenty of accessible green space – allotments, sports pitches, nature reserve and country park together with local amenity spaces and preserved woodland. A fine vision.

Starting in Elmsbrook to the East of the railway, the Eco Town extends west of the railway to the North of Howes Lane. The houses are intended to be built to true zero carbon standards incorporating triple glazing, rainwater harvesting and water recycling as well as solar panel generated electricity and heat and hot water from the community’s own combined heat and power plant.

The only niggles concerned first the primary site allocated for workspaces in the plan resulted in a major warehouse development at the southwest tip of the proposed development next to the Howes Lane/Middleton Road roundabout. The second concern was the realignment of the Howes Lane section of the Ring Road through the Eco Town itself, under the railway (the bridgeworks now complete), and re-joining Lords Lane not far from the Banbury Road roundabout.

While the Elmsbrook development is proceeding and the new Gagle Brook Primary School serving the area has opened, the first and only development to the west to date is this warehouse complex. I’ve written previously about the growing volume of traffic using the ring road – with 40-50 mph limits – which will be routed through areas allocated for housing and schools on a 30mph ‘Strategic Link Road’ (SLR) – a fancy name for this part of the ring road in the circumstances. That traffic will only increase in scale and size as the goods traffic to and from the warehouses on the development increases (driver shortages permitting!) and the road traffic from developments elsewhere around the ring road also grows.

So, when just over a week ago it became clear that a planning application to add another 18000 square metres of industrial/warehousing units had been submitted to Cherwell Planning, the alarm bells rang a little louder. Located either side of the new SLR – not only will the volume of goods traffic routed through the development increase, with all the associated air quality issues and danger to pedestrians and cyclists alike, but the development replaces land originally allocated for housing and green space!

Surely, such development can only degrade the environment credentials of the Eco Town? The net addition to carbon emissions from this new site alone has been estimated by the developers as almost 10,000 tonnes a year and if this application is approved, it may well encourage such development to encroach further along the SLR, perhaps linking up with Avonbury Business Park and taking more land currently allocated for housing with similar industrial/warehouse type development. After all, it seems that Bicester is fast becoming a favoured location for these ‘sheds’ dotted around the ring road.

The proposed development of the Eco Town was both prescient and timely in view of the climate change crisis, but in a week where COP26 is struggling to persuade countries and industries of the urgency of the crisis, the admirable local vision may well become diluted for little practical gain.

First published as a Bicester Advertiser column from Chris Howells, Chair of Bicester Branch, Banbury and Bicester Constituency Labour Party

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