Trapped in Botley

Botley Area Redline smallerI fear Botley is now trapped into a development larger than is needed or wanted.

Doric agreed to pay gazillions for West Way Shopping Centre and the land over by Grant Thornton, the library, Seacourt Hall and Baptist Church. In order to make their purchase financially viable, Doric must build a large development to ensure they make back a suitable profit on their investment.

Here’s what’s happened so far:

  1. Lib Dem Vale administration offers for sale Site 1 of West Way area (corner of West Way and Westminster Way), with a mind to investing some of the profits in updating the West Way Shopping Centre.
  2. Election 2011 brings Tories to power in Vale.
  3. Vale decides to sell Site 1 to Doric (after the top bidder was eliminated).
  4. Doric also wants Site 2, so Vale decides to sell that too, a month later. Doric agrees to pay a gazillion pounds.
  5. In the land sale contract, Vale stipulates some development constraints: supermarket, medical centre, replacement community hall, library and Baptist Church.
  6. Doric begins to consult on a plan to develop Site1 plus Site2 plus the larger area of central Botley (Elms Parade, Vicarage and Field House).
  7. The community gets its first inkling of what’s going on, and erupts in mass objection to the demolition of the heart of Botley to build an eight story block of student accommodation, super store, multiplex cinema and bars and clubs.
  8. Months later (and thousands of hours of hard work by community members) , on 3 Dec 2014, the planning committee unanimously refuses permission.
  9. Doric have until 20 Dec 14 to appeal this refusal, or the contract is terminated. So they appeal.
  10. A few months go by with no progress.
  11. In March 2015, Vale Leader Matthew Barber announces that Doric are willing to withdraw their appeal in exchange for an extension of the planning approval deadline by a year or more. He is minded to accept the offer, to give Doric a second crack at the whip. There is no opportunity for the community of Botley to object or offer another solution.
  12. Basically, Doric says, “We will save you the expense of defending council’s decision to refuse permission, if you will give us another year or so to meet a less stringent requirement.”
  13. So now Mace, who bought half of Doric, are planning another application. Mace say it is a smaller footprint, excluding Elms Parade, the Vicarage and Field House. But the sales price has not changed: it is still a gazillion pounds. Only now Mace have to make a much smaller space just as economically viable. “How will they do that?”, is a fair question.
  14. How can this possibly work out for the benefit of the people of Botley? We are trapped in a deal to sell the centre of Botley for a price that will require a huge development in order for Doric/Mace to make back their investment.

In a perfect world, the Vale Leader would have consulted with the community back in 2011-12 before he decided to sell to Doric for regeneration, and then ensured the subsequent proposal upheld Botley’s status as a local service centre. Or, he could have played by the rules of the game that he defined in the first place, and cancelled the contract when Doric failed to get planning approval. #FairPlay

I think this:

  • Doric offered to withdraw their appeal because they knew that had only a very small chance of winning it.
  • Vale Leader accepted Doric’s offer because he didn’t want to defend their planning decision. #WinWin
  • There was the cost of defending against the appeal (we’re always hearing from the planning committee members about the cost of appeal).
  • And there was the desire for the capital receipt from the sale.
  • After all, it was always a conflict of interest. Cabinet and Senior Vale officers are in favour of this development; it wasn’t likely they’d decide to defend the planning decision to refuse it.

Had Matthew Barber taken his opportunity to end the Doric Deal when planning permission was refused, he could have opened the bidding to developers who wanted to work with the community to improve the face of West Way to provide the local services and shops that Botley needs and deserves. But probably the sale price would have been half a gazillion, so less profit.

So, are we are trapped into a behemoth of a development plan, driven by developer greed and Vale profit? I hope not. I do so want to be wrong.