By John Fox, Chairman of the Wheatley Neighbourhood Plan Committee
Oxford Brookes University (OBU) has put its Wheatley Campus up for sale. OBU wish to obtain Outline Planning Permission (OPP) to make the sale more attractive. As part of the OPP, OBU has announced a consultation for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). In short, what could be the maximum number of houses accommodated on the site and what would this do to the surrounding ‘environment’ – roads, schools, surgery, air quality and much more?
OBU Estates have kept in touch with Holton and Wheatley Parish Councils, and the Wheatley Neighbourhood Plan Committee which is now eleven months into being ‘made’ (completed). OBU have already met Wheatley and Holton councillors along with WNP representatives (28 September). We meet again in mid-December. We knew that the EIA was due and we are being included in discussions. WNP representatives will also meet with John Cotton, SODC Chairman, on 6 December.
WNP’s task of listening to the Community is drawing to a close after nine months, but we are still listening. Currently Wheatley and Holton residents are conducting (3) workshops to publish what we have heard the community wants (its Vision). We will soon publish it and with it, what is needed in practice (the Objectives) to make the Vision a reality. It is called a Neighbourhood Plan.
Share our confidence. There will probably be housing development at OBU, but we will have a statutory say in it and in shaping its impact.
At the start of the autumn, the Wheatley Neighbourhood Plan Committee engaged Community First Oxford (CFO) to organise a housing needs survey for Wheatley and Holton together with an additional questionnaire prepared directly by the Committee that asked the residents to express their view about the villages. The complete CFO report is available on the link below and everyone is invited to send in any comments on the report to the WNP Committee.
The response to the questionnaire was 35.7% which is well in line with the response that has been seen at local council elections during the last 10 years. So, we can attach a high rate of significance to the views expressed in the replies to the questionnaire.
Perhaps not surprisingly the CFO report highlighted the overwhelming need for affordable and starter homes in the villages. Before trying to satisfy this need it is first necessary to examine what is really meant by a “starter home” or “affordable housing”. Currently the average price for a house in the UK is around £300,000 with the average price for a home with two or fewer bedrooms is around £200,000. It is the latter house that most people would consider to be a starter home. However in the case of Wheatley and Holton the CFO report shows that only 15% of the houses are valued at £300,000 or less. It must be recognised however that the cost of starter homes is a general problem of the South East and not just Wheatley and Holton in particular.
In addition to emphasising the need for starter homes the CFO report also showed that the residents were not prepared to sacrifice the green belt for housing development but instead wanted more use to be made of “brownfield” sites.
The WNP questionnaire revealed that, in general, residents were mostly satisfied with the features, services and general environment provided by the villages. There were many constructive comments as to how the villages could be improved, in particular the High St. and its appearance. There were other areas of concern also highlighted (eg the state of pavements and footpaths) and hopefully many of them can be addressed in the future.
There was one significant source of dissatisfaction however… perhaps unsurprisingly traffic and parking. Congestion at peak times, “park and riders”, parking chaos at the primary school, Church Road blockages etc. Frustration and annoyance about all of these issues were expressed in the questionnaire. We may be reaching a “tipping point” with this issue.
The focus of much of the reported concern is that great unknown: the fate of the Oxford Brookes University (OBU) site that is due to be vacated by 2021-22. OBU intend to sell the site with planning permission for housing development. The exact number of houses that could be accommodated on the site is not yet clear but projections suggest that at least 300 homes could be provided. In general the questionnaire indicates there is very little objection to such a housing development. In fact many respondents welcomed the change of use and loss of the tower block! However, irrespective of the final number of homes there will inevitably be an impact on the villages and the response to the questionnaire highlighted a number of concerns and issues that hopefully will be addressed by the preparation of a Neighbourhood Plan.
The full CFO report and the summary of the Community Questionnaire are available via the following links:
Please take the opportunity to review all the findings. Further comments and views are most welcome.
Thank you to everyone who has already completed their questionnaires and sent them back using the prepaid envelope or dropped them into the Parish Council office in the Merry Bells. So a reminder that the deadline for sending these in is the 31st August and every response matters so please take a minute to let us know your views. Many thanks in advance for your participation!
Hopefully you will have received your copy of the Wheatley Neighbourhood Plan Community Survey through your letterbox. Please take the time to respond to help shape the future of our community. The deadline is the 31st August and you can either use the enclosed Freepost envelope to post it back or drop it off in the envelope at Wheatley Parish Council office – if you do it that way, you do help us save on our postage costs! Many thanks for your participation.
On Wednesday 13th July between 3pm and 7pm at the Merry Bells in Wheatley, SODC will be holding a public consultation on the planned new housing in Wheatley. The Wheatley Neighbourhood Plan Committee will also be represented. Please come along to find out more about the plans.
Many of you might have received a mini-questionnaire through your letterbox lately asking some simple questions about living in Wheatley. We’d love to hear your thoughts on what you love about living in the village and what irks you! If you haven’t received one, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get a copy out to you to complete. Thanks in advance for your comments!
The Wheatley Neighbourhood Plan Committee will be using questionnaires to gather the opinions of the people of Wheatley and Holton villages over the next six months. These make for hard evidence. They will not be too long or too many, and will deal with Housing & Land, our Infrastructure, and the Community & its Businesses. We have also started to deliver an initial ‘Mini-Lite’ questionnaire to as many parts of the community as we can. Answers to its three open questions will be evidence of people’s views and hopes for the neighbourhood. Wheatley has 1600 homes. So far we have 28 street reps to deliver to about 20 houses each. If we had 40 Reps to deliver 20 initial questionnaires each, we could reach half the village’s homes. If we had 80 doing the same thing we could cover every home in the village.
Street Reps are the best way to deliver and collect questionnaires. That way, we can be assured that the evidence actually comes back to us and is heard.
The Plan is a non-political, statutory project for consulting the inhabitants about new house building in their Neighbourhood and the human and physical setting into which it will slot. Many communities up and down England are now forming a Neighbourhood Plan.
Would you like to support the community by becoming a Street Rep distributing and collecting questionnaires to say 20 houses in your neighbourhood – or more, or less – according to the time and energy you can offer? If people raise issues for the Plan, you can also put them in touch with the right contact. We have recruited 28 happy Street Reps, but we need more!
Please email email@example.com if you would like to find out more.
We distributed Wheatley Neighbourhood Plan leaflets in Wheatley and Holton during April, presented our project to the Annual Parish Meeting (20.04), and welcomed over 100 to our first Open Day (07.05) who left us opinions, ideas and concerns in writing we are now analysing (12.05). These include 40 completed initial questionnaires asking three open questions on how people currently see their village. Our first task is to listen to village feeling about the community. Housing and Land Use are our core mandate, including options for the Brookes site after 2021. In September SODC will publish its allocation for new housing here, forecast to be around 180 homes. We will then turn discussion to the pros and cons of developing various sites – and other possibilities. So far 28 ‘Street Reps’ have volunteered to deliver and collect initial questionnaires from neighbours: many more needed and warmly welcome!
John Fox, Chairman WNP Committee