Issue 58 — September 2005
Planning Inspector supports Jericho's objections
On August 6 the people of Jericho were relieved to find that the public inquiry on the canalside development had found in their favour.
Bellway Homes and British Waterways had appealed against the City Council's refusal of planning permission for their proposed development of the canalside land behind St Barnabas Church. This resulted in a six-day hearing in March and May.
Jericho is fortunate to have had such an open-minded and painstaking inspector in Mr. Ray Hiscox, who went out of his way to hear the views of everyone present. This meant the Community Centre team, led by Stuart Larkin and George Taylor, had a long delay before their presentation. But it was worth the wait. They put the case so convincingly that the Inspector accepted all our arguments about the need for a new Community Centre on the site.
Indeed, though the furore in the local and national media understandably focused on the loss of the boatyard, the main reason why the appeal was rejected, was because the developers had ignored the need for a new Centre.
In his report, Mr. Hiscox pointed out that the new 'local plan' for Oxford requires that a new Centre be built on the site. And the Council has already agreed to contribute land adjacent to the site at Dawson Place, but this will not be sufficient on its own.
Mr. Hiscox visited the existing Centre and concluded: "I saw at my visit to the Centre that it is severely constrained in terms of internal layout and lack of external space, and I am persuaded by the argument that proper facilities can only be provided with a new building."
"A Centre of what I would consider to be a reasonable size would need a site area considerably larger than the 260 square metres developable area presently available in Dawson Place."
Bellway had argued that it was unreasonable for them to be asked to contribute land as they did not have sufficient funds. But it was clearly demonstrated at the hearing that this was not the case. As the Inspector put it: "I see no reason why need for a land contribution would unduly inhibit development on the appeal site nor why a suitable and viable scheme accommodating the Community Centre requirement would not be forthcoming."
A second reason for rejection concerned the boatyard. Mr. Hiscox concluded that this part of the canal needed facilities for lifting out boats and for repair and maintenance. The lack of these facilities would not, however, be a reason for withholding planning permission-providing British Waterways replaced them in another "equally accessible and suitable location". British Waterways have already evicted Alchemy Boats which is now operating in Yarnton. Meanwhile, the boatyard has been occupied by protesters.
The most controversial conclusions of the Inspector's report concerned the visual impact and scale and mass of the buildings, and the effect on St Barnabas Church. He rejected the advice of English Heritage, arguing that the benefit of the view of the Church across the proposed square could offset the other, more negative, impacts and concluded that, overall, the buildings on the proposed scale may not adversely affect the Church or Jericho in general.
The struggle is not over. British Waterways and Bellway are likely to submit new plans later this year. To keep abreast of developments, and to see the full Inspector's report, please visit jerichocentre.org.uk.