COOP plan changes are cosmetic

Alan Lodwick shares his letter of objection with KDW

Dear Mr Duxbury,

 

Thank you for letting me know about the amended plans for Application 15/01872/F on the site of the Co-op and its car park in Kidlington. I have looked at these and am very disappointed that the scheme appears to be fundamentally the same as the original application. I am therefore writing again to object strongly to the application. My reasons follow and are similar to my original objection though I have updated them where necessary, particularly with reference to the recent draft Kidlington Masterplan.  

 

The site is an important one which presents one of the best opportunities for some time to improve the centre of Kidlington. It is crucial that any approved scheme is the best possible in terms of the mix of uses, its contribution to the economic viability, useabilty and attractiveness of the centre, and its promotion of a “sense of place” (good urban design) as well as its physical appearance. All of these principles are acknowledged in the recent draft Kidlington Masterplan especially in section 13.3.2. However the application seems to ignore this completely even though it is surely a material consideration.

 

While there is still no overall detailed plan for Kidlington centre, any development should respond should respond to the proposals and principles in the Masterplan and which broadly follow previous studies such as the Urban Design Strategy of 1996 and the 2007 Healthcheck Action Plan.  The latter emphasises the importance of “a plan-led approach which manages land so as to prevent piecemeal development and encourage a ‘place-making’ approach that delivers improved local infrastructure and a good place in which to live and work.” I very much endorse that.

 

In contrast, this proposal would result in a sterile development undertaken in isolation and doing nothing for the attractiveness of Kidlington Centre (visually and economically); indeed it would make it less attractive. My specific reasons for objecting are:

 

It is contrary to Policy Kidlington 2 of the adopted Cherwell Local Plan as it results in the significant loss (over 60%) of floorspace in retail use. It is therefore in conflict with the statement that ”Residential development will be supported in appropriate locations in the town centre except where it will result in a loss of retail or other ‘Main Town Centre Uses’.” It is disingenuous of the applicant to suggest that the policy relates to use rather than floorspace. The fact is that a large amount of floorspace with permission for retail use would be lost and this is contrary to the policy.

 

Indeed the local plan says (paragraph B57) that “there is capacity for further floorspace” for shopping in Kidlington centre over the plan period. I suggest therefore that the existing floorspace to be vacated by the Co-op could be reorganised imaginatively to accommodate other shopping facilities. Alternatively, it might be possible to incorporate retail or other commercial uses together with housing in a new mixed development to the rear as endorsed in the Kidlington Masterplan. This could perhaps be sited to face a pedestrian route (see below) from the rear of the Co-op store through to the Oxford Road (and its businesses and facilities).

 

The proposed housing density is excessive.  Over the whole site of 0.54ha the density is a very high 96 dwellings per hectare but in addition to this, on the same land, is the remaining shop area, its service area and retail parking. On the residential only part of the site (44 units on about 0.3ha) the density is almost 150dpha. Almost all of the unbuilt part of the site would be given over to parking or vehicular circulation, leaving almost no opportunities for landscaping.
 

The parking provision (one space per flat) is inadequate for the number of units proposed. It is likely that some of the occupants of these flats would have two cars putting extra pressure on parking elsewhere in Kidlington, including existing residential roads. A total of five visitor spaces seems wholly inadequate.

 

The proposal would have a significant adverse effect on the economic viability of Kidlington because of the loss of existing, well-used parking provision. While I appreciate that the car park is privately owned by the Co-op, it has nevertheless served as a public facility for many years, well used by visitors to businesses and other facilities. Its closure would remove a significant proportion of the parking in the centre of Kidlington The retailing appendix (by Hillier Parker) to the Urban Design Strategies report states that it is “vital that in centres such as Kidlington opportunities for passing trade are maximised to ensure their long term vitality and viability”. The Masterplan also acknowledges the importance of parking provision in the centre. This car park helps considerably in encouraging such trade. I know myself that local businesses are very concerned about its potential loss.

 

The developer argues that new housing units would help to maintain economic viability. However the new housing would only make a very marginal difference to the number of people living within walking distance of the centre of Kidlington. The loss of parking (coupled with the excessive scale of the development) would have a much greater and adverse impact on the economic viability of the centre.

 

Any development of this site is likely to result in loss of parking spaces. However, a less dense scheme (fewer units) would allow the retention of at least some public parking. A plan for providing alternative parking in Kidlington or for managing existing parking more efficiently should also be prepared to avoid damage to the viability of the centre,

 

The building is too large and out of scale with other surrounding buildings, contrary to Policy ESD16. There are no 4-storey residential-only buildings in the centre of Kidlington. The two four-storey blocks of the relatively recent Cydel Court both have retail uses on the ground floor. These buildings, however, provide no model as they are out of scale with the rest of the High Street, being too high. They are also almost completely featureless and without architectural merit and classified as “detractors” in the Masterplan. It was telling that at the public exhibition in Kidlington last year the architect claimed to have taken his design cues from Cydel Court.

 

Other new buildings on the High Street (including one currently under construction) include two floors of residential (or commercial) use above a retail ground floor, and often the top storey is designed as part of the roof.. Recently developed flats on Oxford Road (but within the designated centre) are also three storey, with the top storey being set back. Three storey buildings with the top storey downplayed are therefore more the norm for new developments in the centre. The Masterplan includes a useful map showing the predominance of 2 to 3 storey building in the Centre.

 

The new residential block would be overbearing and oppressive to pedestrians using Sterling Road Approach. This would be exacerbated because the Sterling Road Approach elevation would be in shade for most of the day (as it faces North-East). The Sterling Road Approach footpaths would become likely to become more used by pedestrians who could no longer use the informal routes through the car park to the businesses and facilities on Oxford Road. It should be noted that Sterling Road Approach already carries significant traffic, including double-deck buses. Taking all these factors together a very unpleasant environment for pedestrians would result. The small increase in setback (1.35m approx) proposed in the April 2016 scheme would make little difference to this.

 

The new building would not present an ‘active frontage’ to Sterling Road Approach contrary to Policy ESD16. The frontage would consist mainly of the ground floor windows of new flats (which would themselves be uncomfortably close to a busy road).

 

The design of the new blocks does not meet the requirements of Policy ESD 16 because it does not “complement and enhance the character of its context”.  Policy ESD16 states that “New development will be expected to complement and enhance the character of its context through sensitive siting, layout and high quality design”. It states that this is even more important where the development is in the vicinity of the District’s historic assets. Although this site does not abut a conservation area it should be noted that the centre of Kidlington is itself sandwiched between conservation areas to the north-east and south. It would be appropriate therefore for new developments to respect the traditional forms and materials of these areas.

 

While accepting that the attractiveness of buildings is to an extent subjective I consider that the most successful new buildings in the High Street are those on the south side of its West End (either side of Lloyds Bank). These are generally constructed in a light coloured stone, matching old Kidlington buildings and include pitched roofs, gables, traditional window designs and details and have variety in the depth of the elevations. I suggest that these buildings provide a more appropriate model for this development.

 

The proposal does not “promote permeable, accessible and easily understandable places that connect with each other, are easy to move through and have recognised landmark features” (quote from policy ESD16) and is therefore in conflict with the Local Plan. Indeed it does the very opposite by creating a large inaccessible private space in the heart of Kidlington and by closing off long-term, well-used informal pedestrian routes that link the eastern end of the High Street with the Oxford Road.

 

The 2007 Healthcheck report stressed the importance of good urban design in the centre.and included a Strategic Aim to “Create more of a heart in the built environment of the village centre, with a safe pedestrianised area, a stronger sense of place and stronger integration between the shopping centre and the leisure and civic focus of the Exeter Hall site. 

 

The earlier urban design strategy, produced by consultants for the District Council (Urban Design Strategies : Banbury, Bicester, Kidlington, Roger Evans Assocs & Hillier Parker) included proposals for making the centre more permeable by creating new pedestrian routes. 

 

In relation specifically to the application site, that study says that. … “The block formed by Sterling Road Approach, Oxford Road and the High Street is much too large not to allow through movement of pedestrians” (para 4.4h). It goes on to propose two new rights of way through this block (the green dashed lines above). One of them is from the rear entrance of the Co-op to Oxford Road, coming out between the shopping parade and the Red Lion car park. This route already exists informally, is well used and I understand that it has been for many years. It might even be possible to designate it as a Public Right of Way by virtue of this long-term use.

 

However, it might also be possible for this route to be dedicated by agreement of the landowners. It should not be incompatible with the development of the site as it is at the north end of the car park and could go alongside a new development not through it. It might be possible to orient some of the new development (including commercial uses) towards it as suggested above. I would imagine that businesses on the Oxford Road would welcome the retention and improvement of this route and it would also help in meeting the Council’s aim to link Kidlington Centre to the Exeter Hall area.

 

Ideally, the route at the southern end of the car park at the side of Lloyds Chemists, which is also well used, should be retained too.

 

The Urban Design report also proposed another pedestrian route which would go between what are now the two blocks of Cydel Court and link to the Red Lion route. This is still physically possible and would clearly be beneficial and worth exploring.

 

 

The draft Kidlington Masterplan repeats some of the proposals of these earlier reports, in particular the creation of a pedestrian route from the rear of the Co-op to the Red Lion. It also proposes that the whole of the site in question should include a mix of primary retail plus community uses, secondary retail and residential. The relevant diagram is Figure 13.4 as below.

 

In summary, the current application would result in a large and inaccessible private space in the heart of Kidlington and make it less attractive both economically and visually, less accessible and less ‘useable’. I hope that the District Council will work with developers, the landowners and local interests to achieve a much better scheme for the village. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity which warrants the time and effort.

 

Impressions

New 'artists impressions' do not accurately show the hight or size of the proposed block. It will tower over the village centre and be very visible. Where is the 'head on' drawing to illustrate the true impact?