Last week, registered housing provider A2Dominion submitted plans to Cherwell District Council for up to 2,600 zero-carbon homes along with business and retail space as part of the North West Bicester development in Oxfordshire. Ian Painter is senior planning partner at Barton Willmore, A2Dominion’s planning consultant.
Q. How did you get involved with the project?
A. I have been in the firm since 1996 and around five years ago we were approached by A2Dominion to help them plan for the eco-town earmarked for the site at Bicester.
Q. How does this site fit into the previous government’s eco-towns policy?
A.A supplement to PPS1, which has not been cancelled, provided for four eco-towns across England, one of which was sited in Bicester. As well as the sites, the supplement outlines a whole range of criteria which the eco town must address – including carbon neutrality, walking distances etc. The site is seen as being a step up from a normal residential scheme.
As part of the requirements, we had to produce an exemplar scheme. We got consent for this element, for 390 homes and a school, two years ago and it is now being built out. We lodged a masterplan in March this year, and that is currently being distilled into supplementary planning guidance.
Q.Has eco-town status made your life easier?
A.The government provided funds to help the development, which has mostly been spent on the demonstration project and consultation. Network Rail has also provided funding to improve the main line between Bicester and Oxford. In addition, it has helped acceptance that the development will definitely happen – once you get that then the debate becomes about how good you can make it, rather than whether it should happen at all.
Q. What have the challenges been?
A. The flipside of the positive local sentiment is that expectations are very high and there is a risk you can’t meet that. Everyone wants it to be a successful exemplar for eco development but if you put 20 people in a room you will get 20 different definitions of what that means. Overcoming that involves a great deal of communication. We have broken the plans into workstreams and have formed a stakeholders group involving councillors, interest groups and residents to grind through the issues.
That leads to another challenge – we have involved local residents in order to integrate the scheme, but obviously you can’t consult the new residents because they haven’t arrived yet. A2 Dominion have some good research on what people want from new homes. We have also gone and looked at examples of good development elsewhere.