Northern Gateway – College blocks housing?


11th March 2015

With an Inspector this week beginning to examine Oxford City’s plans for the Northern Gateway area, CPRE has uncovered the fact that it is one of the landowners, St John’s College, which may have scuppered the chances of much-needed housing on the site.

CPRE Oxfordshire has long argued that the proposed office development the City Council plans at the Northern Gateway will worsen the housing shortage, instead of addressing it, as well as increasing already woeful commuting problems. The site should instead be used to build new homes to address Oxford’s severe housing shortage, thereby reducing the risk of incursions into the Green Belt both at this site and elsewhere.

We have now uncovered, amongst the so-called “Background Papers” for the Enquiry in Public for the Northern Gateway Area Action Plan which began earlier this week, evidence that the City Council did indeed consider a housing-led scheme for the site but were told by the largest of the landowners – St John’s College – that it would not make its land available for housing, but only for an employment led Science Park.1

As a result the City Council felt that their only option was to make the Northern Gateway an employment led site, with a small number of houses on land in other ownership (including the City itself). Otherwise, they said, St John’s would force the land to be left vacant.

In fact even leaving it as green fields would have been better for Oxford’s housing balance than building offices on it. The proposed multi-storey blocks would cause a further 4,000 or so people to commute into the City every day, not only increasing already impossible traffic problems, but adding to the City’s housing need.

CPRE Oxfordshire believes the City should call St John’s bluff and tell them it is the houses we desperately need or no development at all.

There is a wider issue here too. The Colleges and the University itself are major landowners throughout Oxford. If, as the Background paper states, they will only release land in a manner that suits their purposes, rather than in the public interest, how much land is being held back despite Oxford’s urgent need to build houses, due to their ‘dog in the manger’ attitude?

It is time for the Colleges to come clean about how much land they have available to meet urgent housing need, and consider the public interest before their own. It is after all the public in the form of the Government, and fee paying students, that supports them.



1. Extract from Background Paper 4

Amending the allocation from an employment‐led scheme to a housing‐led scheme
24. This option was not tested at the Options stage as it was not considered to be a
deliverable option. However it is worth referring to in this background paper as it was raised in response to the Options consultation.

25. It is likely that by increasing the number of homes to become a housing‐led scheme (and including the new primary school that would be necessary) would mean that some housing (and/or the new primary school) would need to be located on the land between the A40 and A44 owned by St. John’s College. St. John’s College’s sole aspiration for the Northern Gateway is to deliver an employment/science park on the site and anything that compromised this would result in the college not pursuing the site for development at all.

26. The Colleges of the University of Oxford have been landowners for centuries and are likely to hold onto land until they choose to release it in a manner that is fit for their purposes. As such, an Area Action Plan which required a housing‐led development would not be deliverable and would result in the majority of the Northern Gateway lying vacant indefinitely. This outcome is not sustainable, does not make the best use of land and would be an unacceptable waste of a development opportunity to help Oxford to deliver its economic vision.