Cherwell approves revised plans for 1,700 homes in Bicester

Revised plans for a 1,700-home community in Bicester in Oxfordshire have been given the green light by Cherwell District Council.

Visualisation of proposals for Himley Village in North West Bicester. Pic: P3Eco Group
Visualisation of proposals for Himley Village in North West Bicester. Pic: P3Eco Group

The council's planning committee approved the outline application from developer Portfolio Property Partners for the "Himley Village" scheme at a meeting last Thursday.

The application proposes up to 1,700 homes, a class C2 retirement village of up to 100 units, commercial floorspace, community facilities and land to accommodate an energy centre and a primary school.

The development would be built on a 90-hectare site that is currently agricultural land.

Some 30 per cent of the homes would be affordable, split between 70 per cent affordable or social rent and 30 per cent other forms of intermediate housing.

According to the committee report by officers, the development proposes meeting zero carbon "Eco Town" standards as required by Cherwell's local plan policy "Bicester 1" for the North West Bicester site, on which several different schemes are progressing.

The council previously resolved to grant approval for the plans at a meeting in March 2017, subject to completion of a section 106 legal agreement and to confirmation that a road and tunnels under the railway line at North West Bicester could be provided during the 2019/20 Christmas and New Year period. 

Since then, aspects of the application have been revised and it has been returned to the planning committee to ask members to re-endorse their previous decision.

According to officers, the condition on the provision of road and tunnels now "cannot be fully followed" because the timescale has been pushed back by about 18 months.

The report states: "At that time, the intention was still that the new road and tunnel infrastructure would be developer led and discussions with Network Rail at that time indicated that a Christmas 2019 track possession could have been worked towards. 

"Since then, the intention has changed and Oxfordshire County Council have now taken on the role of leading the process to deliver the infrastructure, initially the tunnels (the main A4095 and the pedestrian underpass), through the Network Rail process. 

"This involves following a programme leading up to a track possession date in April 2021 during the Easter period." 

However, an associated condition which restricts the level of development on the Himley Village site "to no more than 500 dwellings prior to the delivery and opening of the road and tunnel infrastructure" has been retained. 

There have also been changes to the section 106 agreement, including dropping a requirement for a design panel, and to the application, including changes to the parameter of the school site.

Officers concluded: "The proposal is considered to continue to comply with the development plan policies and guidance listed [in] this report and [...] continues to be sustainable development and to represent a form of development that will meet the high standards sought at NW Bicester."

Overall, the proposals for Bicester Garden Town, promoted by a number of private developers, include 10,000 homes and 138 hectares of employment land, sites for both of which were allocated in the Cherwell Local Plan for 2011–2031, adopted in 2015.

North West Bicester was announced as a garden town by the Coalition government in 2014.

The Bicester scheme was also one of the first four eco-towns announced by the previous Labour government in 2009.

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