Agenda item

Agenda item

South Oxford Science Village Planning Application

Background Information

The Chair of Scrutiny asked for this item to be included on the agenda for pre-decision scrutiny.

Why is it on the agenda?

The City Executive Board will be asked to approve the report at its meeting on 11 May 2017. This is an opportunity for the Scrutiny Committee to make recommendations to the City Executive Board.  The Chair has suggested that the following lines of inquiry may help to guide the committee’s discussion:

·         How would the science village fit with the surrounding environment and how robust are the arguments against building an urban extension in this location?

·         What implications does this decision have for the local plan making processes of the City Council and South Oxfordshire District Council?

·         What planning policies will apply at this site?

·         How was the budget allocation of £560k spent?

Who has been invited to comment?

·         Cllr Alex Hollingsworth, Board Member for Planning;

·         Patsy Dell, Head of Planning, Sustainable Development and Regulatory Services.





Cllr Alex Hollingsworth, Board Member for Planning and Regulatory Services presented the report. He provided some background to the decision and highlighted the progress that had been made in working constructively with neighbouring district councils on the issue of Oxford’s unmet housing need.  The Council’s preferred approach was to agree sites and numbers with the districts and for these to be taken forward through their local planning processes. 


The Head of Planning, Sustainable Development and Regulatory Services said that even though agreements were now in place with some of the districts, no new homes would be built specifically to meet Oxford’s unmet housing need before 2020/21.


The Head of Planning, Sustainable Development and Regulatory Services said that the Council was looking to develop South Oxford Science Village through a three-way partnership arrangement with Thames Water and Magdalen College.  The site was being promoted as a mixed use development and all costs would be split three ways between the three land-owning partners, including the costs of hiring planning consultants to act on their behalf.  The Council’s budget allocation of £560k had also contributed to a lot of detailed technical work which had taken the partnership up to the point of submitting an application.  As the land was outside the city boundary the Council was not the planning authority but the additional costs arising from this factor were relatively small. 



Cllr Hollingsworth said that South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC), had voiced support for an alternative site at Chalgrove Airfield, which was being proactively pursued.    However, the Council’s view was that the location of that particular site was too remote, being some 12 miles from the city. The site’s location meant that the associated infrastructure costs would be very high and good public transport links were unlikely to be viable, so a big increase in car journeys would be expected.  In addition to distance the expected time-lag to completion made the site unsuitable in terms meeting Oxford’s unmet housing need. 


Cllr Hollingsworth believed an urban extension on land south of Grenoble Road would be more sustainable as it would be connected with existing bus routes, cycle infrastructure and potentially the Cowley branch line.  The increase in car journey numbers would therefore be lower than for an equivalent development at Chalgrove. 


Cllr Hollingsworth said that in his view it was likely that the South Oxford Science Village planning application would be refused by the planning authority.  It was difficult to quantify the risk to the Council of pursuing an application but the Council believed that an urban extension at this location was a major priority and that it had a robust case to put forward in a planning appeal or call-in inquiry.  The Head of Service said that the proposal was deliverable, given that the Council was a landowner, and the Council was taking all the right steps but there were no guarantees.  Sites at Wick Farm and Elsfield to the North East of the city were also in contention for development, as well as Chalgrove.  If development went ahead at multiple sites then there would be a need to work closely with the County Council on how the sites fit together strategically.


The Committee received assurances on the following points:

              Transport improvements in the Eastern Arc of the city would be picked up in the Oxford Transport Strategy.

              Changes to the green belt were commonplace in district councils’ local plans, e.g. SODC were proposing changes to the green belt at Berinsfield.

              The Council would have scope to exceed SODC’s planning policies in regards to social housing, although costs would be a limiting factor.

              The strength of the economic case for development had previously been accepted by planning inspectors.

              Part of the site was within the ‘odor footprint’ of the sewage works but this was not unusual and could be mitigated through planning.

              Similarly the presence of electricity pylons could also be mitigated through planning.


The Committee voiced strong support for the decision and agreed not to add to the recommendations in the officer report, other than to say they hope the planning application can progress as quickly as possible.


The Scrutiny Committee made the following recommendations to the City Executive Board:


That the City Council, in partnership with Thames Water and Magdalen College, seeks to submit a planning application for South Oxford Science Village as soon as possible.

Supporting documents: