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(The article was amended 18th Nov after some important factual corrections by John Grantham)

On the left is the 0.4 hectare site at the junction of Worcester Rd and Station Rd. The other drawings are concept impressions of the Phone Co-op's proposal for a three level 1000 sq metre office block. It is described as a low-cost (1.2 million) sustainable building with stone rubble walls, timber-cladding and a zinc roof. Room for 20 staff with 14 car parking spaces. On the ground floor is a visitor space with cafe and a landscaped garden. The Phone Co-Op have negotiated a favourable 125 year lease with the Field Reeves for the land if Planning permission is granted.

Everyone knows the site at the bottom of the hill where you turn left for Station Road. Its a sizeable chunk of land - an acre or so. Its scruffy and overgrown. A bit of an eyesore. People tell you its where Tommy Aldridge kept his horse. This land belongs to the Field Reeves. After the Enclosure Acts Chipping Norton had several tracts of land which were owned by "stint" holders - landowners in town who had previously owned strips of land and now had a sort of shared ownership in large fields or "regulated pastures" instead. These lands were and are administered by a group of people known as the Field Reeves. The Great Common along Worcester Road and the Recreation Ground are the two biggest areas owned by the Field Reeves. (John Grantham has written a super article about all of this which you can read HERE) "In 1905 the then Borough Council used its powers under various Local and Parliamentary Acts to purchase " Stints" as they were offered for sale. This continued to be their policy and over the years they have acquired some 58 stints and are now the Major stintholders. Oxford, Swindon and Gloucester Co-operative Society have 17 stints, in addition there are 8 individual stintholders and two are suspended in respect of a piece of land adjacent to Bliss Mill, making 85 in total". But apparently the Town Council only have four representatives for their 58 stints so they don't actually control things - which seems a bit odd. There are at present three Life Trustee Field Reeves. When one dies a successor is appointed by the remaining Trustees. The stintholders don't seem to get involved which also seems a bit odd. However the decision-making works, the Field Reeves have occasionally sold land in the past. Approx 9 acres in total has been sold on several occasions for the Cemetery under The Burial Acts, and also for railway under The Railway Acts (approx 6 acres) Additional land was recently purchased from OCC. The land at Bliss Mill ( some 2 acres ), where the tennis courts are sited is on a 999 year lease from the Field Reeves and is part of the agreement to improve the access road. But as far as we know no land has ever been sold or leased for commercial development. The Town has come to assume that the land is managed as Common Land - for the exclusive benefit of the town....although the land is not in fact "common land" at all in a legal sense.

We seem to be looking at quite a precedent here - and the amazing thing is that the decision to make land available for an office development has never been discussed or agreed by the Town Council - who as a body are the major stint holder. Which doesn't seem right. While this kind of thing is all part of the charm of a medieval town and its traditions the Trustees decision to make some of its land available for office development has such far-reaching implications that people in the town will now certainly want to know more about how the system works - who elects who and exactly how decisions are made

So when the Planning Application came to the Town Council for discussion on Tuesday, it was a complete surprise (not to say shock) to half the Councillors while the others had already been involved in detail. There was a fair amount of confusion about who needed to absent themselves. There was some feeling that the whole Town Council had a prejudicial interest to declare. In the event John Grantham as Chief Honcho of the Field Reeves was the first to go. Eve Coles, the Mayor, Joe Graves and Martin Jarrett quickly followed as representatives of the Town Council on the Stintholders Committee. Gina Burrows and Rob Evans then followed - for reasons which were not made clear. All the people who knew anything about anything and those who had actually approved the disposal of the land by the Field Reeves were now out of the room. The few remaining councillors decided (after a casting vote from the stand-in Chair) that they objected to the planning application. On three grounds. First, this greenfield land is not scheduled for employment purposes. (There are other suitable employment sites available in the town - for example like the old County Highways Depot at Cromwell Park) Second. access to the site is extremely difficult. Third if this application is granted it could be a dangerous precedent for the similar "Field Reeves" land immediately opposite which is also scruffy and run down. Owen Mumford were recently granted approval to expand their Worcester Rd factory on adjacent greenfield land but this was under a policy which favours "expansion of existing businesses". Owen Mumford were adding 80 extra jobs. The Phone Co-Op seem to be maintaining 20 jobs.

However there is another argument which the District Planners will need to weigh up. This piece of land is completely unsuitable for agricultural purposes. Its next to a huge builders yard and other industrial units. Its prominently positioned on a main access road to the town and it looks a mess. It would cost a fortune to transform it into any kind of attractive feature. Its difficult to see just what it might be used for - that wasn't commercial. The Phone Co-Op is a very successful company started and headed up by a well-respected local man. We very much want them to stay. We should be showing the company that we appreciate their contribution to the economy and the life of the town. We should be pleased that they want to build a prestigious HQ in Chippy. They are an innovative company and are proposing a really interesting architectural solution which will attract some very favourable comment once it is built. Just what we need - some good quality design to go alongside the Leisure Centre.

The Planners once again are going to need the wisdom of Solomon. Take the time to call in at the Town Clerks office and look at an excellent colour presentation of the outline plans. And if you have a view about all of this let the West Oxfordshire Planners know what you think.


Vivian Woodell - the boss of the Phone Co-Op has written a long response to the article above. giving the background to the application and outlining the benefits to the town if the development goes ahead. Below is a shortened version of his document. Please read the FULL VERSION which is extremely helpful and well-argued.

The Phone Co-op started trading as a telecommunications service provider in 1998. We made a profit in every trading year. In March 2000 we moved to a unit on Elmsfield Industrial Estate, and since then our expansion has meant that we have rented a further three units. We now employ over 27 people in Chipping Norton. Last year we also acquired part of the Manchester-based Internet business, Poptel, taking on 5 people there. The number employed in Manchester has since increased to 11

Turnover in the year to 31 August 04 was 4.38 million, an increase of 28% over the previous year. Continuing rapid growth is essential for us..we operate in an industry which is consolidating rapidly and this means that we need to grow to retain the "critical mass" required. Our need to plan for future growth has led us to consider the options we might have available in Chipping Norton. These were: Remain where we are Unfortunately availability of adjacent units is unlikely to continue. Rent alternative space in Chipping Norton. Cromwell Park is expensive, and doesnt provide the kind of environment we want. Units there are typically 2500 sq ft. and it would be difficult to assemble adjacent units as we grow. Build our own offices This option involves constructing an office which is larger than we currently need, and renting out the additional space on a series of short-term leases so that we can expand on the site as we grow. Having reviewed these options, we decided that the best one was clearly to construct our own offices We believe the development we are proposing would be beneficial to the site, and to Chipping Norton as a whole, for a number of reasons:

It will improve a site which is a problem for the current owners, while retaining the attractive features and most of the green land, working with the natural features of the site. The site presents problems for the Field Reeves, who have had great difficulty renting it out Even if it is rented, the income doesnt cover the costs of maintaining the trees and boundaries. The proposed development will ensure that the trees and boundaries are maintained and looked after.
Public access will be improved, and additional facilities provided in the town for the benefit of local residents and workers in nearby factories and offices. We plan to provide pedestrian access to the site during the daytime from a number of points. This will enable pedestrians to walk through the site, eliminating the need to walk around it as at present,. We also have plans to include a caf and exhibition area/mini visitor facility on the ground floor.
The building is intended to provide a practical example of how a high-quality environmentally sustainable building can be provided within a typical budget for an office building of this size. The brief we provided our architects is for a building which other people can use as inspiration when considering how to create an environmentally sustainable office space We believe that the building we would like to construct would be a real credit to the town. It would be likely to attract interest from the rapidly growing number of people who are keen to improve the environmental performance of their buildings, as well as from people interested in the architectural treatment. As such we are confident that it would be a real credit to the town, and to its image,in the post Parker-Knoll context, where it can perhaps forge its identity as a forward-looking place, welcoming high growth, sustainable, technology-based industries which work with their rural setting rather than destroying it.
The site and aspects will be improved visually. Anyone walking down Worcester Road, and looking towards the site, is confronted with a large area used for the storage of building materials by Travis Perkins. Often, machinery is at work in the area, moving stores around. We propose to construct a "living screen" on the boundary of our site, using trellising and climbing plants, which will reduce the impact of this, and thus improve the site.
The development will complete the Station Road Industrial Estate. The proposed building provides a high quality "gateway" to what is otherwise an estate of mixed quality. The site is situated between the estate and busy roads, and the land has no real agricultural or amenity value. Its development does not therefore set a precedent for uncontrolled development of greenfield sites, as some have suggested (if it did, The Phone Co-op would not have proposed it). The steep contours of the site reflect the fact that it was once part of the railway station, so is arguably not really "greenfield" anyway, and the fact that it is not currently zoned for development is probably as much an accident as anything else.
The development will provide the Field Reeves with capital and income to enable them to maintain and enhance their other land.
The commitment of The Phone Co-op, a fast-expanding local business providing high quality employment, is secured for Chipping Norton. The Phone Co-op has created a significant number of jobs in Chipping Norton over the last 6 years. It has the potential to continue to do so. However, if we are unable to solve the office accommodation problem satisfactorily in the medium-term, other options in terms of location will need to be pursued, including faster expansion in Manchester

Please read the FULL VERSION


I WOULD like to clarify a few points in your report concerning The Phone Co-ops application to build new premises in Chipping Norton (Banbury Guardian, December 2).
We are certainly no threatening to leave Chipping Norton. What we are trying to achieve through our application is the means to secure our future expansion in the town. If our application were to be refused, we do not plan to leave the town but it would limit our ability to expand here and we would probably give consideration to more active expansion around our second base in Manchester.
We have not withdrawn our application which will be considered by West Oxfordshire District Council in early January because we still believe that our plans will significantly improve the site, retaining and improving its attractive features and most of the green land.
We are not contesting that the site is greenfield but we would point out that it was once part of the railway station complex and that it is bounded on two sides by industrial uses (and on the other two sides by roads), so the fact that it is not currently zoned for development is probably as much an accident as anything else.
We want to work with and enhance the natural features, the appearance and the amenity value of the site.
I would also like to correct your report that our profits rose to 3.42 million last year. This figure relates to our turnover our operating profit was just over 124,000.
Vivian Woodell
Chief executive
The Phone Co-op


Votes miscounted. "Rejected" Phone Co-Op application was in fact passed.
But would you believe it....
there must now be a new application.

Take a look at this view on the left. Its the site where the Phone Co-Op want to build a new HQ - looked at from Worcester Road. The Planners described it as an important buffer between the green spaces of the Recreation ground and the Industrial Estate and recommended against development. The Chairman of the Planning Committee at its meeting on Monday described it as a wildlife haven. Your Editor reckons its a scruffy old piece of land next to a builders yard that couldn't even support Tommy Aldridge's donkey! The Phone Co-Op is a successful local company wanting to expand. They propose an innovative and architecturally exciting new building. The Field Reeves who own the land are happy to lease the land to the Phone Co-Op which would solve a lot of their financial problems in trying to maintain other big open spaces in the town like the recreation ground and the Great Common. Looks like a win/win - except Planning Policy is against the use of greenfield land for employment purposes where other employment land is available. Will Barton - the Economic Development Officer - had written a letter which said fairly clearly that buildings at Cromwell Park were unsuitable for the Phone Co-Op and the employment land at Parker Knoll was in great demand. In fact employment land would soon be in short supply. Several members of the committee had great trouble in interpreting this letter as being in support of the Phone Co-Op application. It is difficult to see how it could have meant anything else. The mood of the committee seemed to move towards rejecting the officers recommendation - a very unusual occurrence. So Jeff Lowe - a Senior Planning Officer - got his howitzer out. People seemed to be being strongly influenced by the fact that it was the Phone Co-Op who were applying. The committee should understand that although initial planning permission might be granted to them, they could move out on Day 2 and sell the site on to somebody else. The debate went on a long time and was a very good examination of the issues - trying to strike a balance between the need for jobs and encouraging local business with the need to protect the local environment. Mike Howes and Hilary Biles fought a tenacious and determined battle to try and win over the members who wanted to stick strictly with policy. They argued that the particular employment needs of Chippy - after Parker Knoll - provided a clear rationale for being flexible.
And so to the vote. 6-6. And we all knew which way the Chairman's casting vote would go. Application refused and on to the tea break. The Chairman of the Phone Co-Op (Vivien Woodell), the Chairman of the Field Reeves (John Grantham) and your Editor all shuffled off towards Chippy- disconsolate. Yet another injustice dished out to Chipping Norton by the hard-nosed men from Witney. But back in the tea room things were stirring. "How can it be " some hawk-eyed member observed " that the vote was 6-6 when there were 13 of us" And sure enough a recount in the tea room revealed that the vote had in fact been 7-6 in favour of the application. But the die was now cast. Apparently in this situation you can't just go back and say "OK Lets try that again". There had to be an enquiry. And because there was no objection at the time the vote must stand. The applicant has to re-submit his application. The whole matter must be discussed and the vote taken all over again. Amazing! Lets just hope that nobody changes their mind between the two meetings. At least the pretty hefty fee for submitting a planning application will be waived. We hope Vivien has the stamina for all this.