At Prime Minister’s Questions on the 14th October, our local MP Victoria Prentis questioned PM Cameron as to whether or not he agreed with her that infrastructure funding should keep pace with Bicester’s development. From the PR rich response, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the question was a plant. More to the point, the PM seemed to believe that housing and infrastructure were proceeding in step. Quoting from the article in the Bicester Review of 16th October (see article above) the PM said “… look at Bicester and see the thousands of houses, new schools and infrastructure being put in place”.
Has the PM ever been to Bicester (though he has been spotted shopping in Bicester Village!) or spoken to residents? If he had, he would surely be aware of our concerns about infrastructure and planning. We’re not against development as such but we need the facilities – schools, roads, parking, public transport, parks, leisure and youth facilities, shopping (Town not BV) etc, which a rapidly growing town needs. After all, Bicester is supposed to be a ‘Garden Town’. Where are the gardens? Where are the cycle routes and well maintained open spaces? Why are our Childrens Centres and the Hub at the Courtyard under threat of closure when we have a growing population? And now we hear that the Day Centre next to the Hub may be under threat too. If this were to happen Bicester would be left with no Community facilities at all.
Responding, Bicester Labour Chairman, Steve Uttley made these points in the rest of the Bicester Review article, pointing to traffic gridlock in the town due to both Bicester Village and the London Road level crossing closure, as well as the fact that our Community Hospital is the same size as it was 70 years ago! As one local resident was quoted from twitter, “… we still have no idea what infrastructure we’re getting – only 15k houses”.
Steve also drew attention in particular to the fact that much of the new housing being planned and built is out of the reach of young families in Bicester. The cheapest new house on Kingsmere (2 bed Coach House) currently is £279,000 and that’s the least expensive of all the new development under construction it seems. That requires a deposit of close to £30,000 which, considering the cheapest 1 bed studio flat to rent in Bicester on RightMove just now is £725 per month, leaves young people little if any opportunity for saving such a large sum!
All of which appears to have passed our MP by saying “The Prime Minister agrees that infrastructure and investment need to go together.” We can all agree that infrastructure and housing development need to go together but it’s one thing to say it and another to make it happen. Much less make the housing truly affordable!
Only this week, Phase 2 of the Eco Town looks likely to be given the green light – 900 houses off Howes Lane – with another 2600 homes off Banbury Road, 53000 sqft warehousing development off Howes Lane and a 1700 home retirement village and commercial buildings planned. The Howes lane realignment will go through the middle of the Eco Town and downgraded to a 30mph ‘boulevard’ (for which read estate road) breaking the North West ring road which needs upgrading to encourage through traffic around the town rather than through the middle of it. We now hear that the Wretchwick Green development on the South East side will similarly route the ‘southern perimeter road’, through the middle of the development, thereby missing the opportunity to provide a decent route for through traffic round the eastern side.
The quality of town planning doesn’t appear to square with the Garden Town title. For example, the Tory County Council has branded the approach to the Eco Town development piecemeal and cast doubt on how infrastructure will be paid for and delivered. Thames Water says that current sewage and water supply won’t cope and NHS states that a new 7 GP surgery facility will be needed. Meantime, Cherwell District Council has failed to impose a Community Infrastructure Levy on the developers, as they are entitled to do, to ensure the infrastructure could be paid for and developed to ‘keep pace with housing’. Our local councillors might not consider it important but surely our local MP should have something to say about it. For example, we were promised £100m capital expenditure for infrastructure for being designated a Garden Town but since the announcement we’ve heard little and would have expected consultation as to what it should fund.
Banbury & Bicester Labour Party has been one of the many voices raising these issues and campaigning to get some common sense and fairness for Bicester residents in coping with the rapid expansion of the Town. For example, we are opposed to the possible closure of the Childrens Centres and Hub at the Courtyard and support the local campaigns to keep them open. If you agree, sign the petitions
We also have a petition running to realign Howes Lane to complete the ring road properly so that it provides a proper alternative route for through traffic. Please sign up at
There is much more we can and will be campaigning about over the coming weeks and months. On traffic alone for example, the traffic planning between Bicester Village and the new Tesco site on the A41 is of great concern! 4 sets of traffic lights within a couple of hundred yards to cope with BV traffic, Park and Ride Traffic, Tesco Traffic, Business Park Traffic, through Traffic. And as a local resident wrote to the Bicester Advertiser today (29th October), “Most thought it (Park and Ride) was going to be closer to the M40, and… cannot see how it is going to alleviate traffic problems”.
All of which brings us back to the point missed by both the PM and our local MP. We are not against development, we are against poorly planned development and a failure to ensure infrastructure keeps pace with it. There seems little sign that this problem is fully recognised or being dealt with.