Category Archives: West Way Development

Car parking at the new West Way

Traffic and parking analysis is complicated, and a science and art that few of us can say we  understand. Have you read the traffic assessment submitted with this application? I admit I haven’t. But we have local experts here in Botley who have studied it very closely. And the rest of us still have common sense.

Currently, parking problems in Botley are growing. The problem mostly stems from the time park and ride charges increased. Commuters found free parking in Botley’s roads, very near bus stops or with easy access to the cycle paths into Oxford. Over the past 4 years or so, it’s become a real problem in some roads. The problem also comes from new developments where county has allowed fewer onsite parking spaces than would accommodate all the cars that come to live there. This is deliberate policy to encourage use of public transport, or cycle or feet. But it doesn’t always work in Botley. So roads are being parked up, especially down near West Way, where all the busses pass on their ways in and out of the city. Our first controlled parking zone has gone into Elms Road, so now residents have to pay for permits to park in their road.

Here’s what I’ve discovered, and I conclude there isn’t adequate on site parking for the uses they’ve planned.

  1. Currently, the three car parks are joined up so shoppers can circle until they bag a space. The planned car parks are discrete, separate, so in order to move from one car park to another, you must exit onto the streets and go to another car park.
  2. There are currently a total of 290 spaces in several places. This isn’t relevant to the argument, since everything in Botley will be different. I don’t understand why anyone is focused on current numbers of parking spaces.
  3. That said, the parking in front of Elms Parade won’t be changing, except that there will be NO exit at the easternmost end (toward the A34). Same number of spaces, same layout as now, except anyone entering from the west will need to somehow turn their car around to exit via the same access. We saw the difficulty in that plan when we visited on Monday.
  4. The new plan offers 321 spaces (para 7.81 of report). We learned on the site visit that all spaces are unallocated; it’s first come, first served. Approx 16 are for disabled parking. There are 2 or 3 with chargers. This number includes the existing spaces at the front of Elms Parade. (Other counts from the plans show 317 spaces, after 16 May 16 amendments. I’ve asked officers for a true count, but haven’t heard yet.)

So I, as a reasonable adult non-parking-expert, as are we all, consider the uses of the new West Way, and how many people will bring how many cars.

  1. Staff: Predictions are for 248 FTEs. What percentage would be expected to drive and park? In the 2011 census 70% of people working in North Hinksey and Wytham drove to work. This is lower than the Vale average of 72%. Of course, 248 FTEs could be 500 or more part timers. This site is handy to busses, so probably fewer. Is a reasonable guess about 150?
  2. Residents: We learned in the viability report that there will be 1 parking permit per 2-3 bedroom flat, and .5 per 1 bed flat, and an additional 75 permits to be sold. In a previous report I calculated 188 spaces to go with the residential units. (Remember where I said to remember this figure for later?) This is a larger number than the one used in the Transport Analysis, which predicted 112 spaces for flats.
  3. Hotel: There are 123 rooms. Remember there is no allocated parking, so all spaces are first come first serve. Would a reasonable person guess about 50 spaces?
  4. So staff parking, residents’ permits, and hotel takes about 388 spaces, or more than is available, so they spill over into neighbouring streets.

We learned on the site visit that all the retail units in Block A are intended to be restaurants. How many parking spaces are needed to support them?

Trip rates assume lots of shoppers. Where will they park? Where will users of community centre, library and church halls park?

I’ll go out on a limb and predict some students will bring cars to the area, especially since we are so far away from Oxford’s universities.

Oxfordshire County Council commented “The highway authority considers that it is unlikely that residents can be prevented from owning cars, and unplanned demand for parking will need to be accommodated elsewhere.”

How can this be considered to be anywhere near enough parking for this shopping centre?

Affordabile housing and viability at West Way

Right now, today, 10 June 2016, there are five 2 bedroom flats for sale in Botley. Their prices are:

  • £350,000
  • £325,000
  • £280,000
  • £250,000
  • £225,000

That’s an average of £286,000. For a 2 BR flat. We need affordable houses here.

I found ten 2 bedroom flats for let, for an average monthly rental of £1485. People on ordinary wages can’t afford that sort of rent. Affordable housing is arguably Vale’s most urgent need.

This application provides 140 residential units. None will be affordable, by the developers own admission (in the viability report, see links below).

The developers have offered to make 10% of net new houses (13 houses) starter homes, at 80% of market value.  What does that mean in terms of real affordability? The new government programme caps starter homes at £250,000. Since Mace are offering only 1 bed flats as starter homes, I assume the bigger ones would be over the cap. So we’ll have 13 starter homes, 1 bed flats, for sale for about £250,000. That hints at very high priced flats, compared to our current average. (Combining some maths and a bit of reasoning brings me to the conclusion that the 1 BR flat prices start at £312,500. That’s the market price where 80% is £250,000.) Nothing wrong with that. We live in a capitalist world.

Vale’s current policy is that 40% of developments this size must be affordable homes, with a mix of 75% social housing and 25% shared ownership. That would bring 56 houses into availability for people who qualify, and 42 of those would be new social housing for the families who need them. But the developers have said that in order for this project to be economically viable, they can’t afford to provide any affordable homes at all.

I have three main points about this:

  1. The sales contract has some requirements the developer must meet, and the Vale has policies about affordable housing provision, which both cost money.
  2. Vale lacks experience in accepting financial contributions in lieu of affordable housing. We’re losing out from naïveté and lack of planning policy.
  3. Mace admit their scheme is so close to being economically unviable that they are unable to provide any affordable housing, as evidenced in their viability assessment report.

First, there are some sales contract conditions, and there is Vale policy.

  • The buyer had to re-provide the Baptist Church, community hall, and library. Presumably these would not be profitable to the developer.
  • For some reason Vale also required buyers to build a hotel, a multiplex cinema, and a very large supermarket. But the supermarket size was drastically reduced, and the hotel was made slightly larger in recent modifications to the sales contract. Developers dropped the cinema.
  • Planning permission is required for all of this, plus whatever else the developer wants to build on the land.
  • These requirements are part of the sales deal that was negotiated back in 2012 for a certain sales price. It was all out in the open for the buyer.

Vale policy requires:

  • If houses are to be built, then 40% of them must be ‘affordable’ (mostly social housing but partly shared-ownership).
  • This is all known up front, in advance, and something the developer should have planned for.

Para 7.29 of officers report says, “It [applicant’s viability report] identifies the land assembly costs of this proposal are high due to the value of existing uses and indicates the developer’s return will be below competitive benchmark rates. As a result the viability appraisal shows that the scheme is unable to be delivered is affordable housing is provided in accordance with policy H17.” I translate that as, “ It will cost so much to get title to this land, because it’s a valuable shopping and commerce centre, that we won’t make enough profit if we build the plan we have and also have to provide affordable housing.” I think that’s unacceptable. I think if the plan can’t deliver what it needs to, then it need to be reconsidered. It’s not an economically sustainable plan. It should be refused.

Second, Vale lacks experience in accepting financial contributions in lieu of affordable housing.

Sometimes new developments are too small to realistically provide 40% affordable housing. Picture a development of two houses, for example. Vale can negotiate a financial contribution in lieu, to be used to provide affordable houses elsewhere. I don’t know how often Vale actually do that, but they’re allowed to.

Student housing is typically built on land that could accommodate affordable housing, such as in this case. Vale doesn’t have any experience in planning for student accommodation and especially how provision of student accommodation affects the availability of affordable homes.

But Oxford city does have this expertise in both of these situations, and they have policies in place to protect the provision of adequate affordable housing.

Oxford has policies that cover situations when the developer cannot provide affordable housing on site. Usually this has to do with small sites, where it would be hard to provide the required percentage of affordable when you are building two houses. City will accept money in lieu, as a contribution to affordable housing elsewhere.

Oxford also has policies for ensuring land used to build student accommodation doesn’t prevent affordable homes being built in the area.

Here’s how Oxford’s policies calculate the amount due for contribution to affordable housing:

  1. Market houses: 15% of total sale value is due as a contribution to affordable homes elsewhere.
  2. Student accommodation: £140 per sq m as contribution to affordable housing.
  3. This current planning application: 140 1-2-3 bedroom flats. If we use the average prices in Botley, the average 2 bed flat costs £286,000. If the developer sells 140 flats at £286,000 each, that’s £40,040,000 total sales price. Fifteen percent of that sale value would be £6,006,000. (This is just an average. The mix of housing sizes means the real amounts would be different.)
  4. This current planning application: there are 10,550.5 sq m of student accommodation. Oxford charge £140 per sq m. So if this development were in Oxford, the contribution to affordable housing would be £1,477,070.
  5. The total amount expected as a contribution to affordable housing elsewhere in the area, if this were a few hundred meters to the east (in Oxford): £7,483,070
  6. See para 7.31 where the officer’s report discusses the commuted sum of £2,000,000 currently being negotiated. It’s also been in the news this week. See the article here.

Third, Mace admit their scheme is so close to being economically unviable that they are unable to provide any affordable housing, as evidenced in their viability assessment report.

The developer’s viability report has only come to light as a result of a Freedom of Information request. I don’t see that this has been published on the Vale’s website. I don’t know how planning committee members were expected to see it. I guess you weren’t. But you can see the (redacted to remove commercially sensitive information) docs released under FOI here: Viability Report

In the report, Mace claim that their costs are so high, and this project has so much risk, that they expect low to no profit. Even when their income on all aspects is at the highest end of what could be expected, if they were to provide any affordable housing, it would make this project economically unviable. I’m not making this up. Go have a read of the main report via that link just above.

In this report, they tell us:

  1. 140 residential. 55 1bed, 80 2bed, 5 3bed.
  2. 22 retail units
  3. 261 student and academic rooms
  4. 123 hotel rooms
  5. 377 car parking spaces (Numbers elsewhere are different. See officers report para 7.81 says there are 321 spaces. Counting spaces shown on the plans gives 317. So I’m not sure what’s real.)
  6. Parking: all 2&3 bed flat get one space. All 1 BR flats get .5 spaces. There are 55 1bed flats, so 28 spaces. 85 2-3 bed flats, so 85 spaces. 75 other spaces will be sold. Total parking spaces for residential units = 188 parking spaces. (Keep that in mind for later.)
  7. The retail in Block A is expected to be all restaurants. Block C, D and E are to be more traditional retail operators, national chains who will pay higher rents. The retail rental income is expected to be ‘significantly in excess’ of current.
  8. Hotel had no tenant lined up as of the March 2016 date on this report. But lease or sale was expected to be at the upper end of what’s achievable in Oxford.
  9. Student accommodation rents are expected to be at the upper end of what’s achievable for Oxford.
  10. Library is a D1 community use. Rent will be at the current level. If county decides to close libraries, developers claim it ’would be difficult to secure a use-compliant occupier at a similar rent level’. I interpret this to mean D1 are low rents, but OCC is at the higher end of the D1 range.
  11. Business space in the new centre is far away from other offices in Botley so they say they may struggle to find occupiers.
  12. Viability report hasn’t allowed for the s106 contributions amounts (about £750,000 I think.)
  13. Bottom line: developer profit is ‘significantly below a level which a prudent developer should or could accept for taking on the risk of a scheme of this complexity and scale.’
  14. Here are local expert opinions:
    1. Developers expect income at the high end of what’s achievable for Oxford, but Botley isn’t the same as Oxford.
    2. Expected retail income is at high end, so probably pricing our small local independent traders. The higher rent-paying national chains would probably rather be in the new Westgate than in Botley.
    3. The student accommodation examples they quote aren’t comparable to this plan for Botley. Examples are cluster flats, couples flats, not the same as the rooms coming forward here. To be honest, if you hear from experts in the Oxford University student accommodation realm, the developers here are comparing apples and oranges. I don’t know enough about how Oxford University works to be able to understand it, let alone to argue it. I rely on experts. Look for statements by Professor Hilary Priestley, who has decades of experience with student accommodation at OU.
    4. High rents in student accommodation seem to ignore the (un-)desirability of the location. Who would come to Botley to pay these high rents? Their own new student accommodation management company, CRM, say on their website that the main social centre for their students are the Oxford colleges’ bars, and the Oxford Brookes Student Union. Those aren’t in Botley.
    5. One of our local people summarised it well, I think: ‘So the policy has to be waived to enable a financially unsustainable development to gain planning approval.  Surely, that is impossible to justify. I know there is an argument that the developer is in business to take some risk, but when they admit, even with top end valuations, that their proposal does not make economic sense, surely the only conclusion is to say no to planning approval.’
    6. Indeed.

My objection to the West Way planning application

I’ve just filed my formal objection to the West Way planning application. Here’s what I’ve said:


The future of West Way

14 April 2016

Do you remember how Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters did everything they could to cram their big feet into the delicate glass slipper, hoping that they would win the hand of the handsome prince? They cut off their own toes and heels to try to cheat their way to riches.

Vale and its sales partner Doric/Mace seek to cram hundreds of student dormitory and hotel rooms into several 6 to 9 storey buildings in this local service centre in Botley. These plans provide fewer shops than we have now, in order to fit in more student accommodation, in order to maximise their profit. They foresee immense riches if they succeed. They will make their profit by gaining permission for inappropriate development of a small plot of land that is meant to serve the local shopping and service needs of local people for the next 50+ years.

There are two fundamental traps here.

  • First, there’s an aphorism that the perfect is the enemy of the good. In other words, while we await the perfect solution, a good one sails on by.
  • Second, we’re led to think we are faced with Hobson’s choice. That is, it’s either this Mace plan, or nothing at all. This belief has caused several people to give up.

I’ve personally struggled with both of these. I want to come down on the side of what is most likely to be best for Botley; not wait for the unrealistically perfect solution, but also not acquiesce to something we are trapped into accepting. The growing local fear is that Vale will continue their managed decline of the tired old shopping centre until local people and planning committee will decide that anything is better than this.

I’ve come to the conclusion that this solution isn’t good for the future of Botley. We thought at the time of the last application that it was a matter of Doric’s plan, or nothing. But it wasn’t true at all. Cabinet decided to have another go with the same buyer, and we’ve had to go through it all again. I think that if this proposal, which is hard to argue is good for Botley, is turned down, something truly good has a chance to arise.

The fundamental problems introduced at the very beginning of this sales and planning deal have led us to this current situation. The applicant’s intended uses contravene the council’s declared purpose of this shopping centre and the policies that have been put into effect over the years to protect it.

  1. Vale’s original idea (from about 2009) was to sell the easternmost send of the site (‘Site 1’) for redevelopment, and use some of the proceeds from the sale to improve West Way Shopping Centre.
  2. When the new Cabinet took over in 2011, Site 1 was still for sale. West Way Shopping Centre was not.
  3. A buyer came along offering a LOT of money (the Vale’s consultants called it ‘a good price’) but they wanted to buy West Way Shopping Centre as well. They planned to build several hundred student dorm rooms, as well as the night-time entertainment facilities those students would want. Cabinet thought this sounded very profitable, so agreed to the broader sale.
  4. The sale of West Way Shopping Centre should have gone to the open market, rather than being arranged as a back room deal between Vale and Doric.
  5. Vale Cabinet should have considered their current polices and their long-term intentions to improve this area as a Local Service Centre.
  6. Vale Cabinet should have consulted with local people and members about these proposed changes.
  7. Instead, Vale Cabinet did a deal with Doric that will fundamentally change the character of this area. It’s a land sale deal that had a requirement that Doric get planning permission within a specified time period. That would be difficult to accomplish because the plans contravened lots of planning policies. But Vale helped in that, by creating policy in the emerging Local Plan 2031 that supported Doric’s plans. Vale also helped by agreeing to use compulsory purchase orders to acquire anyone’s property that stood in the way of Doric’s development. Vale didn’t consult local people or members about this.
  8. Two years later, Vale Planning Committee saw that Doric’s plans contravened our policies, and refused the application.
  9. By the terms within the land sales contracts, that should’ve been it: if no planning permission was received by end of Dec 2014, the sale deal was over. Local people thought it was ‘back to the drawing board’ and we would be able to work with a new buyer to get the right development for Botley.
  10. But Vale tried to help Doric further, so that both their profits could be realised. Cabinet changed the terms of the sales contract to give Doric another couple of years to get their planning permission. Cabinet also lowered the expectation of development by allowing a smaller food store, more hotel rooms, and other changes to make it easier to meet the contract criteria. Over the next year, Cabinet helped the applicant further by adopting a controversial Botley SPD. All so they could finally collect that ‘good price’ for selling the land.
  11. All along, members of Vale Cabinet who decided about land sales contracts included cabinet members responsible for planning. This conflict of interest has been pointed out many times in scores of consultation responses over the years.
  12. In January 2016, Cabinet adopted the Botley SPD, which still contravenes extant planning policy.
  13. The proposals in this planning application are neither compliant with our saved policies, nor the Botley SPD, nor with our Design Guide. It’s even non-compliant with NPPF. There are well-argued consultation responses on the website that document all the policy contraventions. Please, planning officers and planning committee members, read them.

So here we are, in a real mess. These sales contracts date back to late in 2012; the people who work and live in my community have been enduring this for nearly four years. Many residents have collapsed under the load of worry and now say, ‘Just get on with it.’ If that was the Vale’s strategy for the win, it’s simply unacceptable. If it’s just been an error-strewn exercise, we deserve an apology and a do-over.

This planning application for Botley centre contravenes planning policy and also Council’s explicit intentions for long term improvements to the Botley local service centre. At the same time, years of neglect by Council has brought about living accommodations not fit for purpose, empty disused office buildings, vacant shops and a run-down centre.

Vale needs to do a better job of seeing that the redevelopment of Botley centre meets local needs.

I object to the current planning applications for all the reasons stated so well in the public responses to the consultation.


Mace replies to some questions

Mace has replied to several questions I put to them last week. I thank them for the time taken to respond.

You can see the Q’s and A’s in this document. (The doc is stored in Dropbox. If you click this link it will open for you to read.)

They also provided a Sunlight Technical note to accompany their answers about sunlight. You can see the whole sunlight assessment on the Vale’s application website under Supplementary Documents.

Feel free to post any comments here. Mace reads this blog. 🙂


Amenity Space Assessed in the Sunlight Study

I’ve read most of Mace’s sunlight study.

Most (but not all) rooms have adequate sunlight and daylight according to BRE Guidelines.

Amenity space in sunlight studyWhere the sunlight study falls down, is in its assessment of the sunlight and daylight in public amenity spaces. The study only assessed the private roof top gardens (the yellow patches on the diagram above), not the ground floor areas, the spaces between the buildings, where the public will spend their time.

Mace need to provide a study of ‘sunlight on the ground’.

PS. (And I need to look this up to verify. North-facing rooms are of questionable appropriateness. Does the Sunlight Study assess the north-facing studios in Blocks C&D?)


The Student Management Plan (SMP)

I met up with Mace’s planners today with a list of questions, derived both from others’ questions, and my own. We agreed on a scheme for getting the answers out to the public and I will do that as they are provided. (Involves Dropbox and file sharing, but never mind. I’ll publish them as I get them.)
One earnest question I had was over the Student Management Plan, which many of us have said was not fit for purpose and largely of poor quality.
I can make THREE main points.
1. I’ve requested Stuart Walker (Vale Planning Officer) to make it a condition of any eventual approval to have an approved proper SMP before occupation. Mace’s planners today essentially agreed that’s fine.
2. They tell me that usually an SMP would be developed later in the project, probably just before opening for business. The lower priority at this stage of the project has (unfortunately) led to the problems we’ve all seen in it. It isn’t a planning consideration; it was intended to reassure us that there would be a strong plan in place for managing the future tenants, and any problems that arise.
3. Where ever it says Botley Development Company (BDC or BDCL) read ‘Mace’. Mace will be running the student accommodation.

Mace’s Daylight Sunlight Assessment

I’ve had some question about the way the tall buildings of the new proposal will affect the sunlight in the centre of the development, and also the houses nearby. This question is both from others and within my own mind

Mace submitted a Daylight Sunlight Assessment with their planning application. You can see it on this page.

Have you seen it? What do you think? I’m going to read it now.

(PS. I think I can hire myself out as a proofreader. £20 per hour do you think?)

West Way Centre – 3d models

The community has requested scale models both times there’s been a planning application for West Way. Both times, we’ve been turned down.

Gordon Stokes has managed it with Excel, and gave me permission to post them.

existing mass scaleHere’s a diagram of the current massing and scale of buildings in West Way. (Click on image to make it larger). The sun comes from mostly behind the buildings, especially in winter when the sun is low in the southern sky.

proposed mass scaleAnd here’s Mace’s proposal. (Click to make it larger, if you dare.) I’m concerned about sunlight. Remember, it comes mostly from the south, or behind, these buildings.  What will it be like in the pedestrian spaces between the buildings?

Let’s look at it all from a lower elevation. 

existing lowerHere’s a view from lower down, as if you were maybe up above the new flats in West Way. Currently West Way Tower and Elms Court (the building that holds the Library) are the two tall buildings.

Prposed lower

And here is Mace’s proposal. The tallest buildings are 4 storeys higher than West Way Tower. See the largest block labeled ‘student’? That’s the same height as West Way Tower.

And now let’s look at it from the south. 

existing from southThe houses in the foreground are on Arthray Road. The winter sun comes from behind you.

Prpoposed from south

Here’s the same perspective of the new proposal. Remember the sun comes from behind you.

Mace’s Student Management Plan

The Student Management Plan submitted by Mace with their planning application needs quite a bit of work.

Aside from punctuation, grammar errors and typos, there are a few errors of substance.

First, Botley Development Company (the new name of Doric Properties) are to be managing this student and university staff accommodation. That doesn’t instill confidence, as I haven’t seen evidence they have done this before. In various places in the SMP, we are to be reassured by BDCL’s experience in managing quality student accommodation. I’m unaware Doric have ever done this before.

Second, this SMP is written for halls full of teenager undergrads, who will all arrive at once in the autumn. My understanding is that much or most of this housing is intended for mature or grad students, or staff at one of the universities. It needs to be rewritten with the actual make up of the residents in mind.

Third, on site staff will need offices and facilities of their own. I haven’t seen these in the plans. Are they there and I missed them?

Fourth, an out of hours on-demand bus service between Headington and City Centre doesn’t make sense. How does that help students and staff living in Botley? This seems to demonstrate a lack of care in creating this doc, OR, confusion about where this student accommodation is to be built.

Finally, we are assured that wardens and staff will do checks to ensure no students’ cars are parked locally. I don’t understand how this will work. What will be checked? All cars parked locally against a list of registrations for cars students promised not to bring? How will that work?

I also have questions about cycle parking. If the cycle parking is not provided near the doors to accommodation, won’t students simply bring their valuable cycles into their rooms? That can’t be good.

I think the best solution at this stage is to make the approval of a well-formed Student Management Plan a planning condition (if the application is approved). My request is for the planning case officer to add this to the list of planning conditions.