Thames Tap consultant Hugh Blaza reports on the latest step forward in transforming Oxford’s West End.
It may not have the scale of Houssmann’s redesign of Paris in the 19th Century but the plans for the redevelopment of Oxford’s West End could be just as transformational.
The much-heralded and widely anticipated initiative to rejuvenate the West End of Oxford has moved up a gear. Oxford City Council has issued a ‘request for quotation’ (RFQ) for designers to submit their ideas for a spatial framework for this extensive area.
One of the least alluring parts of Oxford, the West End, stretches from the Westgate Centre over to the Oxpens site, on to the station quarter (including the Jam Factory/Becket Street and Island sites) and thence down the Botley Road to Osney Mead.
Adhering to the ambition included in its recently-adopted Local Plan 2036, the city council’s vision for the area is a mix incorporating employment and academic uses, as well as affordable housing, employer-linked affordable housing, open market housing and student accommodation for Osney Mead.
The council wants to see its chronic housing shortage addressed; it aims to deliver at least 734 homes across five named sites: Oxford Station/Becket Street, Student Castle (Osney Lane), Worcester Street Car Park, the ‘Island site’ and Oxpens.
The vision is genuinely impressive. There is already a commitment from the city council, Oxfordshire County Council and Network Rail to invest in transformational infrastructure across the area, and to support the creation of a global business district, as envisioned by the Local Enterprise Partnership’s Local Industrial Strategy.
And with a relatively small number of key landowners, all directly connected to the city, the council’s expectation is that implementation will be relatively straightforward compared with locations with a multiplicity of landowners, all with competing interests.
The landowners here are Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council, Network Rail, The University of Oxford, Christ Church College and Nuffield College.
Add to the mix the net zero carbon target, transport and movement demands, sustainability, public realm and leisure requirements; a complex, yet vibrant picture starts to emerge. It will be fascinating to see how the consultancy which wins the RFQ translates that picture onto the page.
Working to a tight timetable certainly gives the impression that the council wants to get on with this; the RFQ was issued on January 25 and the council wants to appoint its consultants and have them at work by February 26. A nine-month contract period suggests we may be looking at artists’ impressions later this year.
We await the publication of the strategy with interest and eager anticipation. In the meantime, good luck to all those who have submitted their bids to lead this transformational initiative.
The midnight oil will have been burning in many planning and urban design consultancies over the last couple of weeks!
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