COOPERS CLOSE DEVELOPMENT
The WODC Planning Committee Meeting on Monday 6th October at 2pm in Witney is going to be really important. Worth a trip! Apart from the Heythrop Park application (READ ABOUT THAT HERE) there is another application - also described in the Agenda as being of SPECIAL IMPORTANCE - which is much closer to home. READ THE FULL PLANNING REPORT The proposal is to build 26 houses on an old Council Depot site at the top of Coopers Close. A Chippy resident has been looking through the paperwork.........
The announcement about Parker Knoll perhaps explains why planning permission for an adjacent site at Coopers Close now seems to be being rushed through after long discussions and the apparent lapse of a previous plan. Perhaps the developer or the WODC are concerned that somebody soon will make the obvious point that it makes no sense to develop individual "parcels" of land without some overall Plan encompassing Coopers Close, Parker Knoll and the large OCC-owned site on London Road. And make no mistake there is a big issue involved.
The majority of the Coopers Close site is owned by WODC (it was an old council depot). Gleeson Homes want to build 26 houses on it 50% of them will be affordable. The site is on the very edge of town overlooking fields. The planners themselves describe the development as dense "indeed quite urban". So you will leave Central Chippy (Albion St) move along the grass verges of suburban Rowell Way and reach the leafy seclusion of Coopers Close. At this point you will hit a dense Urban Square in the middle of nowhere (if the inhabitants of Brassey Close will forgive the expression!) What kind of Planning nonsense is this
Leave aside for the moment the "style" of the new houses - to which English Heritage, the Chipping Norton Town Council and the Chipping Norton Society have all objected. It is the placement and context which is really crazy.
Remember this is a Conservation area. The Planners say."Much of the character of this part of the Conservation Area derives from the historic street pattern and concentration of older buildings in Rock Hill a narrow street developed with tightly-knit and mainly terrace housing"..which seems to be offering some kind of rationale for why Gleeson Homes should be building an Urban Square in the back of beyond. But Rock Hill is totally separate from the proposed site and will be kept that way. You cant see one from the other. There will be no vehicle access from one to the other. The approach to and the surroundings of the development site are modern and suburban.
The new development will be expected to "create its own identity and a good sense of place". More Planning nonsense. (The sort that was once used to justify Tower Blocks). Stuck on a windswept hill with no shops, play facilities and half a mile from town. You can just imagine what identity will be created. The Planners seem to think that "the use of railings will help create a strong sense of place". Hows that exactly
The reasons for all this are pretty obvious and they are nothing to do with sensitive development of our beautiful town and its environs. I think its only partly true to say as one of the objectors does"It seems these Planning decisions are heavily influenced by financial gain".
The WODC is desperate to get affordable homes built. It is currently behind its 5-year target. A Planning Officer recently told the Town Council that the biggest problem was finding land. But the "majority" of the Coopers Close land is actually owned by the WODC. They could perfectly well have decided that they would seek 100% affordable housing on their own land working with a Housing Association who would look for public subsidy. In this scenario the WODC could decide on a lower density of development but would probably have to contribute the land free. Instead they have cut a deal with a Private Developer - about which we are allowed to know nothing. In this deal and Im guessing the WODC probably get something for their land. The developer gets 13 bigger, high-margin properties to sell on the open market. There is still a subsidy for the Affordable Housing. The County Council get a "financial contribution to mitigate the impact on local education and library facilities". Imagine the negotiations which have been going on. But putting this deal together has clearly meant that this parcel of land has had to be wrung dry in terms of density - to maximise the revenue earned. No wonder local residents are complaining about the height of the buildings, the increase in traffic, the lack of play facilities, the water pressure and so on.
It is ridiculous to suggest that Planning decisions are being made "transparently" when electors simply dont know the financial details of who gets what from whom.
On the face of it our cash-strapped District Council may get away with less expenditure for a smaller number of affordable homes. But the real "hidden" cost is borne by the community - which is the inappropriateness and social implications of over-dense development. Housing Services comment in the papers"this site may prove to be one of the few opportunities to provide for the needs of people on lower incomes in Chipping Norton". It all depends what you mean by few but we already know that the Structure Plan has proposed 120 dwellings at Cromwell Park and now the 14-acre Parker Knoll site is also in play . This represents a very large swathe of land across the east of the town. Surely the WODC will be seeking substantial quotas of Affordable Housing in those developments. The three sites need looking at together and somebody with a real flair for Urban Planning should advise on just what we want to build on the most important approach to the town. Hopefully this would not be a series of Urban Squares.
The Planning Officers seem to be recommending acceptance of the proposal subject to Agreement of what the County Council gets as its "mitigation" payment; a scheme of landscaping (which hasnt been done); agreement on the stone and hard surfacing materials to be used; a management plan for the Open Space; agreement on car parking spaces; a Soil Contamination Survey (given this was a Council Depot); Details of Earthworks (given the adjacency of quarries and that one neighbour is worried that an earthbank may collapse into his property) and final architectural details.
This seems an awful lot to be undecided at the time approval is being sought, which is why it all looks to the uninformed observer a bit "rushed".
Unfortunately this all a bit late in the day but the Planning Officers report was only published a few days ago. Its too late to make any formal objections. However if you are worried you could try sending an e-mail to our District Councillor MIKE HOWES who is on the Planning Committee.
IF YOU ARE REALLY INTERESTED IN THIS TOPIC THEN AN EARLIER ARTICLE IS ALSO WORTH READING - WHICH CONTAINS A MAP OF THE SITE AND A SUMMARY OF "AFFORDABLE" HOUSING POLICIES READ ARTICLE