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Eco Town will damage economic and social development prospects for Bicester and Kidlington

15 January 2009

Eco town proposals clearly not the best option for growth

An independent report to examine the economic and social impacts of a potential eco town at Weston Otmoor concludes that the development would compete with Bicester and Kidlington, rather than compliment their future growth.

While the report also recognises some scope for the proposals to help expand the local economy and offer more housing, it suggests a new town at Weston Otmoor would adversely effect the future of its two largest neighbouring settlements.

According to the report, by Arup & Partners, there is potential for substantial growth in housing and employment in Bicester. But if the housing and employment proposals at Weston Otmoor are combined with existing plans they provide capacity for growth far in excess of existing anticipated demand in the local area.

The scale of growth envisaged by the eco town proposals mean the development will both absorb and displace growth – taking it away from the areas which had been earmarked for improvement.

Authors of the report said it was not clear that the Weston Otmoor Eco Town proposals were either the only or the best option for meeting growth objectives in this part of Oxfordshire.

The following likely outcomes were highlighted by the report:

  • The eco town attracting existing activity and planned growth, with potentially adverse effects on growth in Bicester and Kidlington.
  • Bicester failing to realise its vision, becoming less sustainable as economic activities decline.
  • The eco town not necessarily developing in the timescales suggested.
  • Employment growth lagging behind housing growth with no prospect of a balance in the short term.
  • The ability of the eco town to increase demand in the local market – e.g. by offering substantial quantities of affordable housing.

The report also offers evidence and argument for protecting the development of Bicester and suggests that there is ‘substantial capacity for further growth of housing and employment’ in and around the existing town.

Paul Lovejoy, SEEDA’s Director of Strategy, said: "This study provides a comprehensive and independent assessment of the proposed Weston Otmoor Eco Town. It shows that Weston Otmoor could pose a range of possible threats to the economic development of Bicester. It also casts doubt on the deliverability of the proposed economic development at the Eco Town itself. We remain sceptical about whether the Weston Otmoor Eco Town proposals are the right solution but will continue to work with Oxfordshire and Cherwell to find appropriate ways to achieve the future success of Bicester and the whole Oxfordshire Diamond for Investment and Growth, while remaining committed to securing low carbon development."

Keith Mitchell, Leader of Oxford County Council, said: "In my opinion there has been a cavalier approach to the future of Bicester throughout the eco-town process. The County Council and Cherwell District Council very quickly came to the conclusion that the Weston-Otmoor proposed eco-town would have a severely detrimental impact on the development of Bicester and we have consistently and continually made that point. It comes as no surprise to me that this report has confirmed that the impact on Bicester, as well as Kidlington, would be disastrous. This report represents yet another real blow for the Weston-Otmoor eco-town proposal."

Barry Wood, Leader of Cherwell District Council has welcomed the report, which reinforces concerns voiced by the council since plans for the Weston eco town were unveiled in April: "It’s reassuring to know that this independent study support our concerns. We have said Weston Otmoor was bad news for Bicester right from the start. This report confirms all of our concerns, and provides support for the view that the best way to improve the social and economic make up of the area is to follow through with the existing and planned future development of Bicester and Kidlington."

"The long term development of Bicester has been carefully planned by Cherwell. Building an enormous new town on its fringes could mean Bicester becomes a Cinderella town – forever in the shadow of its shiny new neighbour and I’m not prepared for that to happen," said Councillor Wood.

The report was jointly commissioned by SEEDA, Oxfordshire County Council and Cherwell District Council, and funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG).

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