DC Casebook: In depth - Distinctive design style judged out of place in canalside setting

A proposal for housing and canalside facilities in Oxford's Jericho neighbourhood has been rejected after a ruling that it would not make the most of opportunities to improve the area's character and quality.

The scheme involved demolition of boatyard buildings and their replacement with 54 flats, 19 of which would be affordable, a canal winding hole, a public square, a lifting bridge and a boat repair berth. The inspector noted that a local plan policy sought a minimum of 50 per cent affordable housing to meet the city's huge need.

However, she acknowledged that the breakdown of development costs demonstrated that the site, bought for £4 million in 2006, could not sustain more than the 19 affordable homes proposed. While observing that any shortfall of affordable homes was serious where need was so considerable, she agreed that land contributions for a new community centre, the public square and other benefits would compensate for the relatively small deficit.

In relation to waterside facilities, she noted the principles established in a 2005 appeal decision. This recognised that the site was not a suitable location for an intensive commercial boat repair business and so the lack of facilities for boat lifting and repair was no reason in itself to withhold planning permission. However, the local plan also required that firm arrangements be in place for replacement facilities in an equally convenient and accessible location and she was not convinced that this could be achieved.

In terms of design, the inspector understood that the scheme's viability depended on maximising the amount of housing. But she held that the preponderance of residential accommodation across the site, in particular around the edges of the square, would render it sterile and inactive. It would lack a distinctive sense of place and have little connection to the area's character or history, she decided, with the buildings having a monotonous appearance.

Community and waterside uses would occupy peripheral areas instead of enriching the square and encouraging people to linger, she found. She acknowledged that the architectural style might be distinctive in its own right but was concerned that the rigid geometric forms would appear out of place and forbidding in the context of the modest character of the area. The canal facades would be repetitious and uninspiring, she added.

DCS Number 100-058-286

Inspector Ava Wood; Inquiry

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