Inspector Backs Green Belt Release North of Oxford

Cherwell Examination Letter

The Inspector fopund tghe OGB apportionment of Oxford’s needs sound and not out of date, which means South Oxfordshire have no reasonable chance of resubmitting with lower numbers and it being found sound.  If they try and withdraw the local plan they could face legal challenge.

Put simply, the approach taken is to locate the housing and infrastructure required as close as possible to Oxford, along the A44 and A4165 transport corridors. To my mind, while most of the  allocations proposed are in the Oxford Green Belt, this is an appropriate strategy because it is that  most likely to foster transport choices other than the private car and minimise travel distances, and least likely to interfere with the delivery of housing elsewhere in Cherwell.

The Council has set out why it considers that the exceptional circumstances to justify the removal of  land from the Oxford Green Belt are in place. I agree that the pressing need to provide homes,
including affordable homes, to meet the needs of Oxford, that cannot be met within the boundaries  of the city, in a way that minimises travel distances, and best provides transport choices other than
the private car, provide the exceptional circumstances necessary to justify alterations to Green Belt  boundaries.

I have no doubt that the North Oxford Golf Club is a much-valued facility. However, the site  it occupies is an excellent one for the sort of housing the Plan proposes, given its location so close to
Oxford Parkway, with its Park & Ride, and its proximity to the centre of Oxford. In that light, I do not  find the allocation proposed in Policy PR6b – Land West of Oxford Road unsound, in princip


Cambridge – Gas Powered CHP no Longer Makes Carbon Sense

Draft Greater Cambridge Energy SPD

Gas fired CHP is considered a low carbon technology and as such can be counted towards the 10% requirement. Once the infrastructure is installed, the type of fuel used can be altered more easily than the infrastructure being put in later, and therefore has the potential to be changed over to a renewable fuel. However, there are some important considerations that must be factored in to determining whether CHP will be feasible for a particular development. Applicants will also need to be mindful of Government’s intention to ban gas boilers in new homes from 2025 in a bid to tackle climate change.
Coupled with the proposed changes to the carbon intensity of electricity in SAP 10, which takes into account the decarbonisation of electricity, a long terms view of the carbon emissions associated with gas CHP should be taken into consideration.

From my discussions with specialists in this field it seems electricity off the grid will be lower carbon that gas powered CHP by as early as 2021-2022, why therefore embed a sub optimal technology.  CHP and district cooling might make sense but only where off a low carbon power source.

One possibility is to drive them with ground source heat pumps – see this DECC report from 2015.   These are new to the UK but there are good European examples such as Helsinki city centre, which innovatively extracts heat from sewage.

The view of housebuilders is that this is just too experimental for their low risk business model, and why should they dig  expensive networks when they can just superinsulate which the forthcoming Future Homes standard would require under part L anyway?   There is also the concern that houseowners may resist being locked into high price future power contracts without chance of switching (the CHP market is correctly unregulated).

To my mind the current technology seems to offer little carbon advantage for the typical housebuilder site of 1-300 houses which will inevitable pug into existing networks.  Where CHP may have a role is in new settlement scale areas where CHP might form part of a utility and network scale design solution integrating wastewater and power solutions.


Why were English Medieval Settlements build directly on the Street Frontage?

A defining feature of medieval settlements, especially villages, is building built directly to the street frontage, along narrow burgage plots.  There seems to be no correlation with geology or building materials, between planted (planned) settlements or organic ones.

Ecton Northamptonshire

The only (deceptive) difference with planted settlements is the widening of the street to form a market place or green – buildings were still built to the street frontage.  The only exception appears to be planned estate villages from the 18C onwards where a 1 foot gaps between the road and house were often planned to aid drainage (e.g. Boughton Northamptonshire).

This is at contrast with the picture postcard image of English village houses with picket fences and front gardens, however in villages where these are common, such as Suffolk, you typically find the medieval core, apart from the most upper status houses, were built to the street edge and only later houses from the 18th century onwards towards the outer edges of villages began to ape the nobility by creating front gardens on wider frontage (2 pole/perch width houses)

There are a number of potential explanations for this.  Continuous frontages with walls or hedges between gaps of houses allowed for easier martialling of livestock.   I think economic reasons may have been paramount.  There is evidence in English and Scottish town of ‘booths’ being created at the front of houses so they weren’t build to the street frontage.  The reason being to create space for workshops and market stalls.  Most later being infilled by shop-frontages and building refacing in Georgian times.  In villages the economic advantage on a building plot was to maximise the space used for cultivation.  A front garden used for flowers was a luxury, and splitting a narrow burgage plot between front and back gardens was inefficient.  A final speculative reason may have been drainage.  Houses would drain onto front and back, making the areas around houses at risk of waterlooging.  Facing onto more compacted ground on a sloping street was slightly more efficient in terms of drainage.  The large throw of thatched roofs showed the concern to avoid draining onto house foundations (typically none) whatever building materials were used, but especially where loose stone, wattel and daub or mud/cob was used in construction.   In many villages with thatch you can see macadamizing only went up to the edge of the throw to allow a drainage strip in front of the house (as in Selbourne below) but it would be  mistake to call this a designed front garden, before this it would have been a rough road to the edges of the house with grass growing long the edges simple because cart tracks would not reach.






‘North-South’ Rail Proposal in Joint Plan Key to Linking in Northamptonshire to the Ox- Cam Arc

Next Month West Northamptonshire will launch its issues paper on the joint plan the forthcoming West Northamptonshire Authority will produce.

Since the winding up of the New Town Development Corporation Northampton has struggled to find its strategic role.  Traditional industries has declined and distribution has grown enormously.  Its growth was considered ‘disappointing’ and the MKSM programme followed by the arc sought to boost it, however the town fought off major growth proposals in the South East Plan.  It has also been somewhat politically dysfunctional.  Considered the ‘lowest of the low’ in terms of local government performance a development corporation was granted – amazingly with DC powers but with no powers to plan for the towns expansion.  It was a great success in joint planning but as soon as the joint plan was agreed the joint planning unit was abolished and the town refused the first urban extension application to come its way.  Now progress on urban extension has been slow, partially because of slow progress on a ring road (compare with Bedford for example) and following an appeal at Roberstbridge South Northants and Daventry no longer have a five year supply.  They relied on the joint core strategy splitting housing targets between Northampton and the rural areas, however the NPPF of course defines the target by district.  Amzingly neither Daventry nor South Northants have published SHLAAs making them years behind in plan making.  Similarly the collapse of the county dominated local political thinking making West Northants years behind Oxford or Cambridge in terms of how they fit into the arc.

The draft issues paper is almost a good example of ‘soft’ strategic planning – that is something trying not to upset anybody by discussing where housing of specific numbers might go.  Almost but not quite as it discusses key factors in determining where housing should not go, and key factors in supporting where housing might go.  As such I feel it is grasping for solutions to long term strategic growth locations, something that, publicly, none of the other groupings in the Arc have yet to get down to.

Prior to the abolition of structure plans the County proposed many possible locations for strategic growth which were all knocked back, Long Buckby, Blixworth, Milton Mansor, Quinton.  A key factor restraining growth was seen as the severe capacity problems of the M1 and the need to avoid ‘junction hopping’.  The M1 was seen as the southern limit of the town.  Now with two DCO SRFAs proposed south of the M1 and major junction and road works associated this will transform the geography of the town.  The M1 is no longer the barrier in the same way it is no longer the barrier in Milton Keynes.

Another major constraint in the Nene valley SPA effectively ruling out major growth within 3km.

Also HS2 will release major capacity on the WCML.  There is potential to restore a station at Roade and just over the border in Bucks at Castelthorpe, where a four platform station stands as a ghost.  A key DCO proposal is to dual the A508 (all the way to MK)  and build a bypass around the western part of Roade, as well as upgrade junctions 15 and 15a.

Assuming these go ahead it creates a major potential opportunity.  Imagine a major link road south of Blixworth between the A43 and the Roade bypass.  This could enable new town sized growth with an alternative east west route that avoids the M1.  Similarly imagine a new link going east from road bridging over the M1 then looping back to the A45 south of Wooldale Road.  This could enable development south east of Northampton, outside the SPA buffer that would be in effect a mirror of the New Town phase of growth to the North West of the town.

It could be served by either rail more likely BRT in the short term along the route of the former cobblers line from Northampton to Bedofrd.  Which similarly at the eastern end facilitate Garden Town scale growth west of Bedford.

I suspect though the thinking of the issues paper is trying to avoid the political fallout that discussion of growth South East of Northampton has always attracted.

Hence it discusses potential growth along a ‘North-South Rail’ formed from restoring the Northampton-Market Harborough line.  Only 13km and in good nick.  The talk though of connecting to East-West Rail suggest also restoring the cobblers line though this isnt clear.  This would create a new North South Rail Path enabling direct services from Euston to the East Midlands.

There are two and only two potential strategic growth locations on this route.  Not discussed but they are obvious.  At Blixworth, and where the restored line would cross the A14 at Kelmarsh.   An almost empty area of estate land where (unlike Blixworth in the past) no body lives to protest.  the Site of the Battle of Naseby is a couple of miles to the West but the topography means the visual impact could be contained, and you could easily fit 20-30 thousand houses plus a major centre for distribution direct to the East Coast ports via the A43.

Given lead in times and build out rates West Northants will need several strategic growth locations of such a scale.  By being bold about rail restoration they have a real opportunity to make them all zero carbon transit based urban hubs.

Finally the issue about growth in small town and villages. Here there needs to be a real review of their settlement strategy.  Proximity to towns in Northamptonshire is a factor, but not to towns in adjoining counties and authorities which is ridiculous.  Hence there is now growth planned in the allocation plans for Kings Sutton or Deanshanger for example which is ridiculous.