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Oxford's lost landscapes

Artists and visitors at the 'Lost landscapes' exhibition Artists and visitors at the 'Lost landscapes' exhibition Photo: © Jane Tomlinson

11 September

The potential loss of some of Oxford's green spaces to developments prompted CPRE member Sarah Milliken to organise an exhibition of artworks.

In the past decade Oxford’s population has risen 12% to more than 150,000. There are plans to build more than 8,000 new homes in the next 15 years increasing the population to beyond 170,000. Development is destined for greenfield sites, including playing fields, allotments and nature parks.

There is undeniably a need for new affordable homes in Oxford. National planning law says that open spaces should only be developed if they are not required for the wellbeing of the community, yet public consultation on the City Council’s plans has revealed strong feelings that the majority of the green spaces earmarked for development should be retained. They are much needed recreation space, sports facilities, food-growing areas, or access to nature.

Oxford City Council’s Core Strategy states its commitment to maintain a city-wide standard of 5.75 hectares of publicly-accessible green space for every 1,000 people. But population increase means that currently it is only 5 hectares/1,000. In some areas, it is less than 2 hectares/1,000. As the population grows, it will inevitably reduce even more.

In a congested city, green spaces provide vital ecosystem services:  carbon storage and sequestration, stormwater attenuation, air temperature reduction, and the removal of pollutants from the atmosphere. In view of climate change, these matters should not be brushed aside. Many of the green spaces in Oxford earmarked for development are either designated for their ecological significance, or are close to designated sites. These places are part of a biodiversity network, and the potential impact of each development on the network as a whole should not be underestimated.

These concerns prompted me to commission nine local artists to create works of art to draw attention to the impending loss of some of the precious green spaces in Oxford. A number of themes emerged co-incidentally: boundaries, exclusion, disenfranchisement, freedom, and value. The ‘Lost Landscapes’ exhibition which took place at Bartlemas chapel off the Cowley Road in September reflected the importance of these sites to the residents of Oxford.

Artists were invited to create works of art inspired by East Minchery Farm Allotments, Barton Village Nature Park, Barton Road Cricket Ground, The Horspath Site, Lincoln College and Jesus College Sports Ground, Littlemore Park, Oxford University Press Sports Ground and Warneford Hospital Playing Field.

The future of these sites is currently being decided by public examination of the City Council’s Sites and Housing Development plan. We'll let you know more very soon...

Artist Imogen Rigden says: “People who are losing their local green spaces must be given a voice to express their anger, sadness or dismay. When planning decisions are made, those affected most often feel disenfranchised”

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