Is the future bright for Oxford?

Is the future bright for Oxford?
 
Matching action to ambition

19 June 2017, by Savills Research

Oxford is home to a world-class university, but the city’s economic potential is held back by its property offer...

 

...However, a joined-up, county-level housing growth strategy, infrastructure upgrades, and a retail-led redevelopment of central Oxford look set to unlock the city’s latent growth.

A simplistic diagnosis of Oxford’s problem is often proposed: the physical constraints of the city have resulted in a shortage of office space and some of the most unaffordable housing in the country. In turn, this leads to potential occupiers overlooking the city, which makes attracting and retaining talent difficult.

However, the underlying reasons for the inertia are more complex. Political will to take bold decisions has been lacking, with the administrative structure of Oxfordshire making strategic action difficult.

FIGURE 1

Oxford in focus – Housing affordability remains a key metric in Oxford’s otherwise positive business profile compared to the average of UK cities

 
Oxford in focus

Source: Centre for Cities. Note Housing affordability data 2016, all other data 2015

Addressing the housing shortfall

Constraints on land available for development in Oxford include a city boundary tight to the existing urban area, numerous conservation areas and heritage assets, and extensive flood plains. This leaves two broad options for accommodating sustainable growth.

The first is to optimise and intensify land use within the city. The second is to build in connected areas outside the existing city limits.

The Oxfordshire Growth Board (OGB) was set up to facilitate and enable joint working at county level. It has reviewed development capacity and housing need in Oxford and identified a shortfall of 15,000 homes. The OGB has also commissioned a study of 36 ‘strategic options for growth’, testing their suitability to meet the housing needs of Oxford. Of these, six are within the city boundary, 30 are outside. Development of both types of site is needed, but each approach presents political and practical challenges.

FIGURE 2

Future growth – New housing and commercial sites have been identified and are setting a new direction for the city. Barton Park (885 homes) and Oxford North (500 homes, plus 1m sq ft of office space) lead the way

 
Figure 2

Source: Savills Research, using Oxfordshire Growth Board (OGB) and OS OpenData

Current developments

There are two key developments changing Oxford in the short term, one residential, one mixed use. Both are located on the city edge.

The first is Barton Park, which is an 885-home scheme located just outside the eastern ring road. It’s the largest residential development in the city for many years. The first phase is under construction and will offer new family homes in a market where few have been added in recent years.

The second key development is Oxford North. A planning application is expected this year for 1 million sq ft of commercial space and 500 homes. The site is well connected in terms of transport. It’s at the junction of the A40/A34 and near the new Oxford Parkway train station that provides connections to the city centre, London Marylebone and Bicester. A new East-West Rail service will reinstate the link to Milton Keynes and Bedford in the early 2020s, with longer- term plans for direct Oxford-to-Cambridge trains.

Our What Workers Want report (see Is Oxford open for business?) shows people in Oxfordshire prefer a less urban environment, so the edge of the city may offer an attractive balance.

Inside the city boundary, finding new development opportunities with sufficient scale is likely to mean changing the use of or intensifying existing sites. Most scope lies in the central area around the main train station (see below). This has started with the redevelopment of the Westgate Shopping Centre, set to complete in October 2017, and a major upgrade of the train station is also in the pipeline.

Making the most of the limited opportunity to redevelop such a critical area means that longer-term sites in the pipeline, including the train station, Oxpens, and Osney Mead, should be developed for complementary uses to maximise both the site values and their contribution to the wider growth agenda.

 

Source: Savills Research using OS OpenData

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