Thames Tap consultant Hugh Blaza gives an expert local view on the leap forward the Oxpens scheme has taken.

Spring, it seems, is here. And with it comes welcome news of green shoots emerging in the Oxford landscape.

As we all know, the west end of the city is to be transformed. We reported recently on the invitations for bids to submit designs for the spatial framework covering the district.

And now we hear that it’s all systems go for preparing a planning application for the Oxpens site.

Our readers will recall that, in an unprecedented initiative, Nuffield College and Oxford City Council signed up to a joint venture relating to this unique site right in the centre of the city.

That was some four years ago. The initial excitement turned first to curiosity as to what was going on and then frustration as we awaited news of what OxWED, the joint venture company tasked to take the plans forward, would be doing with the site.

In reality, it’s little wonder that we’ve had to hold our horses. The Oxpens site is just one piece of the jigsaw of the once-in-a-generation transformation of an entire quarter of Oxford.

And it is (or feels like) a literal quarter. To appreciate the scale of it, make a journey in your mind along the areas we’re talking about:

  • Oxpens Road to St Frideswides Square
  • The Jam Factory and Becket Street on the south side of the square
  • The Island Site leading east towards the city centre (taking in Hythe Bridge Street and Park End Street)
  • The reimagined and expanded railway station on the west of the square
  • The pinched section of the highway under the railway bridge
  • Over the river down the Botley Road
  • Hang a left into Osney Mead Industrial Estate
  • Back out and down the Botley Road

Then join up the areas of land we’re looking at:

  • Osney Mead linking with Oxpens
  • The Jam Factory and Becket Street over to the railway line
  • The Island Site leading up to the Worcester Street car park and then up to the Westgate Centre

And the ambitions for the various potential uses:

  • Laboratories and research
  • Hospitality
  • Leisure and retail
  • Affordable housing
  • Teaching
  • Student accommodation

Then overlay the infrastructure:

  • New railway lines and train station
  • New roads, footpaths and cycle tracks
  • Bridges and flood alleviation
  • Bus routes and stations
  • Sustainable, zero carbon initiatives

And last but not least, how about a bit of public realm for good measure:

  • Parks and meadows
  • Theatres
  • Sports facilities

When you consider that none of the areas of land will work in isolation from each other, it’s little wonder that time has been needed to consider the intricacies of one of the key pieces of the jigsaw.

Nor that it will be 2022 before the outline planning application for Oxpens is submitted.

As Kevin Minns, managing director of OxWED, puts it: “Momentum is building in the West End and we’re looking to share our ambitious plans later this Summer and get people involved.  To do that, our next task is to secure investment funding so that we can get ready for that important community input and consultation.”

We are greatly encouraged to hear that public consultation will feature in the planning for this site. Quite rightly; the impact is breath-taking when you consider the transformational potential of these linked sites.

Savills commercial director Charlie Rowton-Lee said in a recent documentary about Oxford that he wished he was 20 years younger so he could be even more involved in all the fascinating and exciting prospects for the regeneration – and rejuvenation – of these parts of our city. 

And we’re sure he’s not alone. For all of us who will be involved, for however long, it’s going to be a project of which we can all hope to be proud.

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