Cherwell District Council has opposed the eco-town at Weston Otmoor. It considers that a large free-standing town like that at Weston Otmoor would harm Bicester. The Council has made clear to Government its commitment to making sure that Bicester remains a balanced community, providing new jobs and facilities for the people that live there.
As part of the Government's assessment of its eco town programme in general, and all of the short listed schemes, it is carrying out a "sustainability appraisal". This appraisal is looking at the environmental, economic and social effects of each of the eco-town proposals, including Weston Otmoor. In the light of the views on the eco-town previously made by Cherwell District Council, the Government asked the Council whether we could identify any alternative option which should be assessed against the Weston Otmoor proposal in the Sustainability Appraisal. The Council considers that, notwithstanding our opposition to the eco-town in principle, we should see whether, in theory there is an alternative eco-development that is less harmful to local communities than the proposal at Weston Otmoor.
The Council has been working to prepare our own plans for how future housing growth is to be accommodated across the district - based on the figures given to us in the emerging South East Plan (which do not include any eco-town proposal). As part of this we are currently consulting on a series of "options for growth" and have identified a number of possible alternative major housing sites around Bicester. This work has given us a basis for suggesting an alternative theoretical location in accordance with the Government's request.
In putting this alternative forward, the Council would wish to make the following points clear:-
- We are not formally supporting this as an alternative eco-town location. It is being put forward as a means of testing the "sustainability" of the Weston Otmoor proposal in the event that the Government wishes to see an eco-town in Cherwell District. The Council continues to support the view that growth within the district should be decided through a plan-led system, such as the process that has been undertaken on the South East Plan, and not through speculative landowner/developer schemes such as the proposal at Weston Otmoor.
- The Council's current "options for growth" public consultation has identified a number of possible major housing sites around Bicester. These include land at Howes Lane and at Lords Lane. These sites have formed the basis of the alternative proposal. We are not saying that the two sites are therefore the Council's "preferred sites" at Bicester for further housing growth. They are being put forward now because the Government asked us to identify a possible alternative location which could accommodate at least 5,000 houses. Neither of the other sites around Bicester that we have identified could, in our view, do this. They are, however, reasonable alternatives for accommodating a smaller number of new homes in accordance with the figures in the South East Plan.
- No specific proposal for an eco-development at north west Bicester has been put together. The alternative put forward by the Council is based on an emerging understanding of where, theoretically, further housing growth could take place. It has not been looked at in any detail at this stage and its assumptions and opportunities have not been tested or discussed with other stakeholders.