Nick Clegg Announces Bicester to Become a New £100m 13,000-home ‘Garden City’

nick-clegg-flowersThe government announced plans today for a new ‘Garden City’ to be built on ex-MOD land on the outskirts of Bicester in Oxfordshire.  The proposals will be backed by £100M of government funds and will include ‘sustainable’ transport infrastructure, green spaces and new local amenities.

On the face of it this could be a boost for Bicester, but I suspect the devil will be in the details.

Much of the announcement seems to cover projects that are already in planning or underway. The new railway station for example. There’s also some confusion over if this is to be a re-imagining of the much vaunted eco-village or an entirely new project.

It is encouraging however to see that the project is to be built on a brown field site.

Confusingly, the definition of a ‘garden city’ is being left to the developer’s imaginations with the government saying it doesn’t want to “impose any definition of what garden cities are”.  This could likely mean we’ll end up with another estate full of either ‘luxury homes’ that ordinary people can’t afford, or shoe-boxes crammed together to generate maximum profit. That would probably mean any aspirations to provide gardens and green space will go right out the window.

If Nick Clegg really wants this to be development different from all the other clone estates thrown up around the country, I’m afraid he’s going to have to nail his colours to some sort of mast and properly define his intentions. But that might prove more difficult than a glib press release full of utopian imagery.

There would also need to be a clear vision that the people living in this new ‘city’ will be contributing to the local economy and society as well as working in it. With a train station on the doorstep, such a development could easily become a dormitory for London commuters or a sink hole of buy-to-let properties.

Affordability will be the key. If these homes are intended for people on middle and lower incomes, then I’d support the idea. But I suspect such values won’t be compatible with what Nick Clegg sees as a ‘garden city’.

Personally I’d like to see more genuine thinking along these lines, subject to the above caveats. But ultimately this may all just come to nothing.

So many of these big legacy projects either evaporate into the ether once they’ve generated enough headlines, or turn into something very different once the realities of cost, demand and political will begin to bite.

There’s a veritable tsunami of these grandiose announcements coming out from government at the moment though. Like the spurious claims for new spending on road infrastructures announced earlier this week, many of them are just old or existing projects being re-launched as new spend to give the impression of a go-ahead administration full of exciting possibilities for the future.

Anyone would think there was an election round the corner!


2 thoughts on “Nick Clegg Announces Bicester to Become a New £100m 13,000-home ‘Garden City’

  1. Brian Brown says:

    Ian, I think you need to be clear that what Nick Clegg announced and what is happening are two entirely different things.

    What is actually happening is not a new “Garden City” or “Garden Town”. It is an announcement that the 10,000 new houses to be built in Bicester over the next 17 years will be supported by government money to fund infrastructure development and to act as seed corn for developers. In addition there will be a further 3,000 houses built from 2031 onwards (site to be determined).

    It seems clear that the Tories have looked at their plans and realised that no developer is willing or capable of taking the eco-town development forward without significant financial assistance to pay for the inevitable Section 106 agreement requirements that the development would require. i.e. any developer would have to stump up the cost, up front, of the inevitable new schools, sewers, gas, electric, telecoms, sewage works, police station, post office, ambulance, fire service, doctors, dentists, hospitals, parks and play equipment, bus services, cycle paths, roads etc. that will be needed when you build housing on this scale.

    80% of the new housing will (and some of it has already started) be built on green field sites such as Bicester NW, Kingsmere and Langford. This is hardly “brownfield” development. Only 1,800 of the 13,000 houses will be on brownfield land, at the Bicester Depot at Graven Hill.

    The infrastructure developments will include an additional motorway junction south of Junction 9 on the M40 with presumably a new access road to Bicester, possibly to cut off the corner and join the A41 to the motorway by bypassing Bicester. They are also likely to be including the cost of extending or renewing the sewage farm, because Thames Water has already announced that it will be running at full capacity once Kinsgmere phases 1 and 2 and the “eco town” Exemplar are completed.

    There are also comments that say this will bring 21,500 new jobs to Bicester, although nothing about what sort of jobs or where they will be. Already we have planning applications in for a massive load of distribution warehouses as part of the “eco” development.

    It’s hard to see how anything of Nick Clegg’s news can in any way be considered as good news for anyone who cares about the environment.

    What we actually had today was a load of political guff with no real environmental credentials, to mask the fact that a vast amount of taxpayer money will be needed to build 13,000 new houses in the wrong part of the country for people who don’t need them where they are.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for providing more background Brian.

    I agree that there’s a lot more to this than meets the eye which is why I qualified my initial comments by saying ‘on the face of it’.

    I’ve been receiving more information all day about how the full deal breaks down and discussing some of the proposals with planners.

    The fact that of the 13,000 houses, only 3000 will be new builds over and above schemes already under way is now fully apparent, and in that context, Mr Clegg has been caught trying to drag the wool over everyone’s eyes. I also wasn’t aware that some of these will be built on greenfield sites.

    My comments above were made as an initial reaction to the announcement this morning when I was trying to look on the positive side for the people of Bicester.

    I am, of course, naturally sceptical of announcements like these made by the current administration, especially when they come so close to an election and as a prelude to the chancellors Autumn statement, when most people expect the longer term news on the economy to be less than encouraging.

    But rather than looking for the downsides, I was trying to resist my natural suspicions and take the main theme of the announcement on face value.

    I suppose, based on past experience, I should have been less charitable!

    Rest assured I’ll be working up a more detailed analysis of this announcement and the others we’ve heard on government spending this week, including those on flood defences. I’ll be publishing this on my website and hopefully in the wider public arena, and your comments will be very helpful as part of this process.

    Thanks again for taking the time to respond to me.



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