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Digging the dirt in Mount Place. Michael Barnes of Greening Jericho adds compost to boost the thin layers of topsoil,
An afternoon out at the Jericho Book Fair in June 2021
Matt and Elizabeth at a Greening Jericho plant sale
Sunrise at Port Meadow (Image: Jenny Mann)
Spin Jazz perform at the Jericho Art Fair
COMMUNITY SITE FOR THE JERICHO DISTRICT OF OXFORD, UK
Cornerstone Land has made a crucial change to its proposed Jericho Wharf development. The company will now build no affordable housing. It will thus not only miss the City’s 50 per cent affordable housing target, it will also fall short of the 33 per cent that was reluctantly approved for the previous application.
Even in the recent past, this development promised much more. We had a working boatyard and a community centre that could earn sufficient income for long-term viability. We had a potentially vibrant square that opened up a clear vista of St Barnabas Church. We had a bridge across the canal that would serve as a vital link between Jericho, Rewley Park, the station and beyond. And we had the promise of affordable housing that would support key workers in the centre of Oxford.
We do still have the boatyard and community centre. But our square is a shadow of its former self – encroached on by private housing that blocks the sight lines to our Grade 1-listed Church. We have also seen the vital canal bridge hastily withdrawn from the application, without allowing time to address the concerns of the Environment Agency and the Canal and Rivers Trust. And now we have a final blow to the City’s affordable housing policy.
What lies behind all this? Cornerstone is arguing insufficient profits. The developer must of course get a reasonable return – usually considered to be 15-20 per cent of the value of the development. But the latest Cornerstone document shows estimated profit to be well below this level. Compared to the document they submitted in April 2020, estimated costs have stayed at their previous very high levels but estimated revenues have fallen by £2.4 millions. House prices falling in Jericho? No, the change is apparently explained by reference to new house prices of similar size at sites in Barton and Wolvercote – nice enough locations but strange choices as comparative areas.
Feeding different data into the model would produce very different results. Official figures show that house prices in Oxford actually rose by 16 per cent in the 12 months following submission of the planning application, which would imply potential profits that could be £6 million to£10 million higher than forecast – money that could be invested in a community centre and boatyard, with a bridge and a public square worthy of this unique setting, and still leave the developer with a reasonable profit.
Local governments and communities have frequently been caught out by last-minute changes by developers. And you might think this has all gone on long enough. Why not just accept their latest moves and get on with it, we are too weary and worn down by this saga? But that would be a mistake. The developer understandably wants to maximize its profits, but most of us who live and work here have a broader vision of what is needed, and what is possible, and we should be able to resist these pressures – both for ourselves and future generations of Oxford residents.
What should the City do? It should demand better information. We are now in a familiar position in which faulty data risk a bad decision. First, the Councillors should demand a more robust re-assessment of the value likely to be generated by the scheme. Second, they should require a review by the City Council’s independent expert Oxford Design Review Panel of the piazza and whether it constitutes a viable public space. And third they should ensure that the options for the bridge have been thoroughly assessed. Rather than aiming for a final conclusion in December they should refuse the current application and require a ‘time out’ for a better-informed decision.
Note: This planning application is now open for public consultation until December 2. The Jericho Community Association and the other Jericho Wharf partners will shortly be indicating to their members how they can respond.
To make a comment, you can go to the City Council’s planning website and enter the search term 20/01276/FUL.
News posted - November 22, 2021