Category Archives: West Way

West Way – amended plans submitted

Mace have submitted amended plans for West Way. Consultation is now open for these changed plans and continues through 2 Jun 16. 

15 Jun 16 is still the intended date for planning committee to decide if it should be approved. Mark your calendar!

You can see the new plans on the Vale website page here: http://www.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/java/support/Main.jsp?MODULE=ApplicationDetails&REF=P16%2FV0246%2FFUL

Emily Smith’s speech to Scrutiny on Botley SPD

Emily Smith, presentation to Scrutiny Committee about Botley SPD on 22nd Oct 2015

Good evening Committee. I would like to talk to you about two of the concerns I have in relation to the SPD for Botley Centre. In a moment I am going to talk about height and scale, but first I would like to raise my concerns about the consultation process.

Consultation Process

It is my understanding that when there is a significant consultation on planning policy the Corporate Communications team can be involved at an early stage to ensure a well-planned and high quality consultation. Meaningful consultation is difficult. It requires clear explanation of the information being discussed and carefully worded questions to ensure reliable responses are gathered. However, this consultation missed key questions, such as ‘what should the maximum building height on the site be?’ and residents described to me feeling ‘manipulated’ by the online form asking questions in a way that were difficult not to agree with.

The consultation report in your pack, states that residents aged over 60 are ‘over represented’ among the respondents. But clearly there are lots of young professionals, children and teenagers living in Botley so why were engagement events for these groups not planned from the outset. In the end communications staff from corporate strategy and planning struggled to get groups of younger people together because the bulk of the consultation period clashed with the school summer holiday. They did squeeze a few groups in at the end, but if this had been planned earlier more could have been done and the number of meaningful responses from young people could have been higher. AND all this was going on at the same time as the Local Plan Examination in Public so Officers were difficult to get hold of during the consultation period when we had queries. To me, it all felt very rushed.

Having spoken briefly to officers it is my understanding that the Communications team had limited involvement and their recommended changes to the consultation questions were not all taken into account.

Perhaps committee could ask the Planning Policy team to explain who led on the consultation design and delivery and what the involvement of the communications team was? Did Planning Policy involve the ‘consultation experts’ from the beginning?  And why was the timing of a consultation on a clearly complicated and controversial document not more carefully thought through?

Maximum Height

Height and scale was one of the main reasons the previous application by Doric was rejected by the Planning Committee. As I have already mentioned, there wasn’t a question in the consultation about maximum building height, but the comments by residents and organisations, including Oxford City Council, clearly show a strong objection to the SPD enabling another planning application as large as the failed Doric proposal for this site. So why has the maximum height not been reduced in the final version of the Botley SPD?

Allowing 8 storey buildings in a residential suburb is also contrary to existing Vale planning policies, for example:

  • The adopted Local Plan policy H10 and S12 which says that development of any type must not harm the character or appearance of the area.
  • The emerging Local Plan states the same and specifically talks about West Way, Arthray Road and Westminster Way in Central Botley.
  • Section 5 of the Vale’s Design Guide states that “the scale of buildings should relate to their context” and 5.1.2 explains that urban areas of the district range from 2 to 4 storeys – which is clearly true of Botley. A Character Assessment describes roads opposite the SPD Site as ‘villagey’ and confirms that “Botley is a low level suburb that rarely rises above the level of 2 storeys”

So, again, why does the SPD allow buildings of 8 storeys when other Vale polices would only deem 4 storeys appropriate? Why the inconsistency? Are there any other local service centres with 8 storey buildings in the Vale? I am not aware of any.

I understand that whatever development happens in Botley it needs to be financially viable, for the developers and also for residents who don’t want to be left with a collection of empty retail units. However, some members of the community I represent perceive that the SPD allowing 8 storey buildings is being driven by the price the Vale are selling the land for. Clearly, if the land cost £1 to buy, viability would be easier to achieve with fewer commercial outlets on the site. The higher the cost of land, it follows that developers will need to cram more on to the site to draw customers in from places like Abingdon to make a profit.

BUT, an SPD is a planning policy document, so surely its adoption should be determined by planning considerations. This SPD should be about what is appropriate development for a local service centre in residential area, and ensuring that local people are not harmed by any planning applications that come forward.

So, what is driving the need for 8 storey buildings? How can the residents I represent, be sure that this SPD has not been influenced by the price that the Vale are selling the land for? And why, having read the consultation responses, have planning policy not reduced the maximum building height allowed in section 4.4?

In my view, the adopted Local Plan, under which this SPD will sit, is clear. Buildings in central Botley should be no more than 4 or 5 storeys high.

Committee members, please will you consider referring the SPD back to planning, so they can amend section 4.4 to bring the maximum building height of our local service centre in line with the adopted Local Plan, the emerging Local Plan, and the Vale’s Design Guide?

Thank you for listening.

3 (or 4?) maps of Botley

Map Botley Centre SPD

Botley Centre SPD

Map LP2011

Local Plan 2011 Map of Botley Centre (blue area)

Map LP2031

Local Plan 2031 Map of Botley Centre

I’ve been studying what the experts say about the rules of writing a Supplementary Planning Document, or SPD.

The Botley Centre SPD has some problems. One is the boundary used to define Botley. Botley isn’t a real place, as I argued when they re-drew the Vale boundaries and created my new ward, Botley & Sunningwell. Botley is a geograhical area without a firm boundary defined; it’s not a parish. It includes most of North Hinksey Parish (arguably all of it, depending on who is arguing) and part of Cumnor Parish. It also could be argued that the part of Oxford City along the Botley Road west of Oxford is also Botley. There is also ‘Old Botley’, where North Hinksey Lane meets Botley Road.

The SPD is supposed to give more detail of policies in the adopted Local Plan 2011. Instead, it is formed mostly based on Local Plan 2031, which isn’t adopted yet, nor even examined.

Here are 4 maps of Botley: Local Plan 2011, Botley Centre SPD, and Local Plan 2031.

And then…

Just for giggles, I’ve dug out the map of Botley District Centre from the failed Doric planning application. Notice it’s identical to the map in LP2031.

Map Doric Botley District Centre

Botley District Centre – map from Doric’s failed planning application

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.

 

Botley Redline Area?

Botley Area Redline smallerThe Vale Tories used a Doric definition as their policy for Botley Central Area in Local Plan 2031. Now that the Doric planning application has been refused, another big problem with the Local Plan 2031 is clear.

I objected many times to Doric having a hand in forming planning policy. I was variously assured by senior officers that a) developers have no role to play in policy formation, and b) that it was usual and helpful  for developers to have a hand in policy formation. So, which is it? Both of these things can’t be true.

IMG_1571Doric wanted to demolish the Vicarage, Elms Parade and Field House (after seizing them by Cumpulsory Purchase Orders that the Vale would execute, if necessary). Now that their planning application has been refused, there is to be a second plan, with a smaller footprint, which excludes these three properties.

Top two photos are from page 58 of the Vale Tories’ Local Plan 2031. (Click on them to make them bigger and easier to read.) The blue one below is the actual policy, from page 59 of the Vale Tories’ Local Plan.

Doric's policy for Botley

This policy for Central Botley came from Doric.

Now that Doric have successfully insinuated their pipedream into the Vale planning policy via the Local Plan 2031, how will any other panning application ever be in accordance with the Local Plan? I don’t see how this can possibly work.

If the Vale Planning department and planning committee consider their own policies as material planning considerations, then any planning application for other than the original Doric redlined site would be refused. Wouldn’t it?

I wonder if there is now any way to point out this late-arising problem to the inspector? So that s/he can throw out the ridiculous policy for Central Botley.

 

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Free wifi for Botley

Or, well, actually, not yet. But any day now, really…

Do you remember when the Vale said they would install free wifi at the West Way Shopping Centre in Botley? Was it 2012? or 2013?

I asked about it in Dec 14, but that was the council meeting where the Tories refused to answer questions. When I did get a reply from the Cabinet member responsible, here’s what she said:

The free wi-fi is installed at West Way, Botley and is operational. However, there remains an outstanding issue of landlord’s consent for the placement of some of the equipment. Vale
officers are working with all parties to resolve this issue as quickly as possible and will not be
promoting the service until consent has been obtained.

Sometimes I feel like a royal nag. I’ve become a right nuisance to the Cabinet member for Economy Leisure and Property. I ask about this at every opportunity. (That’s usally when I’m inside Cafe Aloha, using their free wifi. Or when I’m in Wantage, using the free Vale wifi there.)

I asked about it last week, and got this reply:

The Wifi at Botley has been plagued with problems. Initially there were problems with obtaining a license. This was resolved and the system was ready to be operational.  At that time the service provider had made repairs to cables which had been damaged following the system installation. These cables were then covered with a cabinet to protect them from further damage. Unfortunately the cabinet has since been removed, the power unplugged and the cables have been damaged. Why this has happened is not known but the service provider will be back on site asap to make the necessary repairs again.

Free wifi, coming soon. Any day now, really.

 

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The night the car park lights went out in Botley

A resident contacted me to say all the lights had gone out in the car park behind Tesco. I determined to investigate and sort this out.

That car park, behind Tesco, SS Peter and Paul Church, and Barclays, off Church Way, is dark, dark, dark. It’s only lighting is overspill from street lighting, plus two spotlights on the side of West Way House (the tower over Tesco). West Way House is empty, and the owners are under no obligation to keep the lights on. So they’ve gone out, and the car park is dangerously dark.

First I contacted the management company for West Way (the shopping centre). they told me it didn’t have to do with them, but with West Way House.

I contacted the Vale Car Parks Team. They told me it didn’t have to do with them, but with the property team.

I contacted the Vale Property Officer, and pointed out that the Vale are probably at risk if something happens in the unsafe DARK car park. He agreed and said he’d seek a solution.

Happy are we that the management company of West Way House agreed to put the lights back on! This was last week some time, so the after dark experience there should be a lot better now. Or soon.

I notice Vale Tories have put some money into the budget next year for improvements in car park lighting. I hope it gets as far as Botley.

 

Doric Appeal their Refusal

Doric officially lodged their appeal today against the decision to refuse their West Way planning application. This was expected.

You can read the Vale press release here: http://www.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/news/2014/2014-12/west-way-appeal

We’ll all be notified of the details — dates, deadlines and things like that. Best opinion at the Vale is that it won’t be heard until after the election. (That’s 7 May!)

So for now, our Main Thing is to have a wonderful holiday break!

Re-examining our beliefs

I just had a lovely phone call to thank me for all the work I’d done on West Way. The caller was surprised at the committee outcome, but observed that all the councillors at the committee meeting were attentive and wanting to make the right decision. (Except for one who seemed to be falling asleep. But that one did raise the hand to say, ‘Against’, so never mind.)

Lots of people seem very surprised at this result.

Lots have people have expressed their beliefs about this West Way scenario. Here are some things I’ve heard or read in the past weeks and months:

  • Vale will ensure planning permission goes through
  • It’s a done deal
  • I don’t trust any elected councillors
  • Vale must be corrupt, to decide on an application where they benefit financially
  • Vale are about to lose Botley to Oxford City so they have to get their money out of it
  • There’s a conspiracy between the Vale and Doric
  • All councillors are crooked
  • Money in it for the councillors
  • Party politics decide everything
  • No democracy in the Vale

Did you think any of these things, or perhaps others I haven’t mentioned? If you did, what do you think now?

I think a surprise result in life can be an opportunity to examine your beliefs. What exactly were you suprised at? Please take a look at that. Why were you surprised? What belief did you hold that was shown to be mistaken? Where were you wrong? Is there anyone you need to apologise to? Is there anyone you need to forgive? Is there anyone you need to thank?

Hey. I don’t mean to lecture you. I mean to share with you what I do in the face of a surprise. Things that have surprised me around this include:

  • Doric turning in sloppy designs and data. Even the slide they left up for most of the planning meeting had “Botley Distrct Centre” [sic]. They did finally update their drawings to change “Burger’s” to “Signage”. If these minor matters caught my eye, the major goofs were caught by objectors.
  • Doric lying about me and refusing to make it right. I consider myself a pretty square shooter; I expect to be met the same way. That was surprising, disappointing and made me angry.
  • Doric failing to realise how offensive they were being. Their reference to Botley as a ‘brownfield’, needing ‘regeneration’. Calling it an exciting plan. Saying universities were excited, residents were excited, businesses were excited. That surprised me. I expected more of a realistic, pragmatic approach instead of a deep-pocket PR machine.
  • Cllr Batts continuing to support Doric in spite of such huge opposition from the community he was elected to represent. I still don’t get that. And why he used his time at the committee meeting to give us a history of West Way. A surprise, and a puzzle.
  • That all the supermarkets said they weren’t interested, and Doric maintained until the end that they had one on board.
  • Matthew Barber refused to consider that he had made a bad mistake in choosing this deal and this developer, and to look for viable exit strategies.

Other things disappointed me. But that has more to do with me having unrealistic expectations of others. I can learn from that too. But that’s more than compensated for by the thousands of ways my expectations were exceeded. What a great community to be a part of!

I wasn’t surprised at the final result. I did a lot of talking to a lot of people and felt fairly sure the committee would do the right thing. Botley is a lot like Grove (v near Wantage) in size and purpose; we are the two Local Service Centres of the Vale. And those committee members who were unfamilar with Botley first hand, were defo familliar with Grove.

I didn’t feel confident to come out and say I was optimistic on the night (OMG, what if I was wrong?). But I DID say to those around me, “I am hopeful.”

What have you learnt about yourself or your world from this experience? I’d like to hear if you’d like to share.