Issue 68 — June, 2010
Pressure to preserve
Conservation area progress
Despite being one of Oxford’s most distinctive and historic districts, Jericho is not one of the city’s 16 conservation areas. So beyond the normal requirements for planning permission there is little to stop people changing the area’s character.
Most of Jericho was developed during the 19th Century, often to house the workers at Oxford University Press, or businesses alongside the new canal, such as the Jericho Iron and Brass Foundry which became the Lucy’s factory.
The construction was fairly ad hoc – individual builders often added to the terraces of houses as they got the funds. But because most of the building took place over a fairly short period Jericho acquired a distinctive character, emerging largely as a mixture of Victorian two and three-storey terraced houses.
Subsequent redevelopment has been equally ad hoc – and not always so attractive. The most dramatic changes were in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Indeed there were even plans to raze the whole area to the ground and start afresh. But thanks to a spirited local campaign most of Jericho was saved.
Many of the houses that were beyond repair were demolished. This included an area known as Jericho Gardens, which in the 1930s had been a notorious slum, on land now occupied by the school and the field. Others that disappeared were at the top of Cranham Street, which made room for the health centre on one side, and Grantham House on the other.
Since then there have been radical changes within many of the houses, typically knocking out walls to make larger spaces. The most visible changes have been external replacements for doors and sash windows often with PVC. But the buildings that changed most dramatically, were the street corner shops and pubs and other businesses, almost all of which have now been converted to houses. Jericho west of Walton Street once had at least ten pubs, now it has only three.
To preserve and enhance the remaining character of Jericho, pressure has built over the years to have the area declared a ‘conservation area’ – a campaign given a fresh impulse by the threat of an ugly new building on the canalside site. In its weaker form, conservation area status offers greater control over demolition, and over new constructions – which would be held to higher design standards. In its stronger form, it would have an ‘Article 4’ directive which would require permission for external changes to existing buildings, including doors and windows – though this might apply only to certain streets. There are only two such directives in Oxford: in Osney Island and part of Wolvercote.
The City Council has allocated £50,000 to the process of assessment. In April, Council officers gave a presentation at the AGM of the Jericho Community Association, and subsequently a steering group was established consisting of interested local people and bodies such as the Oxford Preservation Trust.
Residents have also been making their own assessments –18 have had training in using a ‘toolkit’ for considering the needs and character of their streets and environment. If you would like to join in you can get a kit from the City Council website pages on conservation – which now has a page devoted to Jericho.
Based on these assessments, along with its own work, the Council officers will make recommendations in the autumn, for public consultation. The most controversial issue might be whether or not to have an Article 4 directive. It is doubtful whether it is worth having a conservation area without one, but this would be more costly to monitor and sustain, so is only likely to happen if there is strong public support.