Issue 55— June 2004
Canalside plans rejected
Council refuses permission for Bellways development
Bellway Homes' proposal for the redevelopment of the land behind St. Barnabas Church has been resoundingly rejected by the City Council's Strategic Development Control Committee.
Bellway have purchased the land from British Waterways (BW) and proposed three- and four-storey housing along with a restaurant, a public square and a footbridge. These proposals drew a storm of protest when they were first presented in July 2003. They were no more popular at a public workshop last September, and the protests continued against the latest, slightly amended, plans that were presented in March 2004. More than 300 people and organizations have registered objections-primarily to the density and height of the proposed development, which would crowd in on St. Barnabas Church, the lack of a new Community Centre and the loss of the canal boatyard.
In March the city planning officers recommended refusal of planning permission. Their report was considered first by our local Area Committee on April 28th which endorsed the officers' conclusion-one member describing the plans as a 'sheer act of vandalism'.
Not surprisingly, when the plans reached the city's ultimate planning body, the Strategic Development Control Committee on April 28th they received one of the roughest rides of any application in recent years. George Taylor, on behalf of the Community Association explained how we had tried to work with British Waterways on this development, but so far to no avail. Emma Chapman spoke on behalf of the boating community, pointing out how difficult it would now be for canal users to get their boats repaired.
Our local MP, Dr. Evan Harris, also took the unusual step of attending a city planning meeting. He described the proposal for only 30% social housing as 'a joke'.
The most bizarre part of the meeting was when the Bellway spokesperson claimed that they had not been notified of the City Council's decision to add to the site the land currently occupied by the garages in Dawson Place-thus contributing most of the land needed for a new community centre. A quick search through Evan Harris's voluminous folder of documents at the meeting revealed at least one letter to BW which did just that.
Colin Cook, a member of the Strategic Planning Control Committee, who is also a city Councillor for Jericho and Osney, led the assault at the meeting, describing Bellway's plans as 'unbelievable'. He pointed out that the real problem was that Bellway had simply paid British Waterways too much for the land, so were now obliged to recoup as much as they could through high density housing. He cited a Council-financed study that showed how, with a more reasonable payment, they could easily make a 20% profit on the site and still deliver a reasonable level of social housing along with the bridge, the open space and a new Community Centre.
The Community Association and others have produced a series of alternative plans for this site-as has a local architect, Simon Norris, who also spoke at the meeting.
In the event the committee rejected the plans on no fewer than eight grounds. These included concerns about the height and density of the buildings, the lack of alternative boat repair facilities or provision for a new Community Centre, the low proportion of social housing and the inappropriate style of the new bridge.
On April 29th Colin Cook and Evan Harris also spoke at the AGM of the Jericho Community Association. Evan Harris described the Bellway proposals as 'shameful', but emphasized the importance of continuing the dialogue with BW.
Now Bellways can either present revised plans, appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, or go back to BW and renegotiate the deal.