Save Headington Hill Park!

Oxford Brookes University Proposal and Cycle Path – Brutal, Insensitive and Dangerous

Isn’t This Worth Saving?

Introduction

UPDATE 23/08/21 – THE PATH SURFACING HAS BEEN REMOVED IN REVISED PLANS AND CONSULTATION EXTENDED TO 09 SEP 2021 SEE “Arrival Glade” SECTION AND SLIDESHOW BELOW

Cyclepath content remains as it will form part of the ODS Application.

Oxford Brookes University (OBU) is redeveloping the Clive Booth Student Village (CBSV) demolishing a large part of the campus and replacing it with new buildings leading to a net increase of 573 students.

As part of this, the planning application below is intended to improve connectivity between the village and the rest of the campus by the development of an Arrival Glade and new paths.

In addition to this, Oxford County Council (OCC) via Oxford Direct Services(ODS) is seeking to create a cycle path on the current public footpath (PROW) running on Cuckoo Lane between Woodlands Road/Headley Way and Marston Lane and across the park to London Road.

This article aims to explain in a quickly understandable way, the dense proposals provided by OBU and ODS, concentrating on the wholly unnecessary, insensitive and brutal nature of the proposals and urges readers to lodge strong objections as below.

Each and every objection may help save the current charm and character of Headington Hill Park and the Headington Hill Conservation Area more generally.

Both OBU and OCC has shown little care or respect for the community, and the obtuse nature of the planning application documents impacts negatively on the trust relationship.

ODS/OCC appear to have consulted, in any meaningful way, only Cyclox as far as can be ascertained, and assumed a cycle path is a matter of when, not if.

It is of concern that a private institution with little private green space is in effect incorporating a public good (the Park) into its commercial offering, working with the Council and Cyclox to deliver “public” cycle paths that are not even on its property to the apparent exclusion of the citizens of Oxford.

How Do I Object?

Planning Reference

21/01368/FUL | Alterations to footpath, including alterations to boundary wall and railings, new surface treatments and landscaping. | Headington Hill Campus Oxford Brookes University Headington Hill Oxford Oxfordshire OX3 0BT

21/01369/LBC | Alterations including the blocking of a gateway and the formation of a new gateway to the northern boundary wall to Headington Hill Hall which bounds Cuckoo Lane. | Headington Hill Campus Oxford Brookes University Headington Hill Oxford Oxfordshire OX3 0BT (same as /FUL)

Object either by direct link Oxford City Council (OCC) link: or via Oxford City Council Planning Site Ref: 21/01368/FUL or 21/01369/LBC where documentation can be found or citing the above and mailing to: planningcomments@oxford.gov.uk

REVISED DEADLINE IS SEPT 9th 2021 FOR BOTH ABOVE

If Please comment on both applications, which are essentially the same, /FUL is a standard planning application, /LBC is Listed Building Consent.

The ODS cycle path proposals do not, following revisions, form part of 21/01368/FUL.

The broader ODS cycle path proposal has not yet entered formal consultation, however, it is a good opportunity to address the cycle path concerns in a submission, but they may not be strictly the matter under consideration.

The Friends of Headington Hill Park (FoHHP) can be contacted or better, joined.

Further, please email your local Councillor or the below who represent the HHP area:

NameRepresentingContact Email
Nigel ChapmanOxford City Councilcllrnchapman@oxford.gov.uk
Barbara CoyneOxford City Councilcllrbcoyne@oxford.gov.uk 
Mark LygoOxfordshire County Councilmark.lygo@oxfordshire.gov.uk
Councillors Representing The Headington Hill Park Area

Proposals Overview

Plan Overview (Annotated) – Source: OBU – GENERAL_ARRANGEMENT_PLAN

The following is the extract shown as a red rectangle in above diagram:

Plan Detail (Annotated) – Source: OBU – GENERAL_ARRANGEMENT_PLAN

In summary, the revised OBU proposal consists of:

    • Creating an “Arrival Glade” surfacing the grass area and removing the railings in this area, conferring the charm of a Stalinist 1970s shopping centre on Headington Hill
    • Opening a new entrance gate in the stone wall and closing the current one
    • Creation of new modern walkways through the OBU campus

In addition to this, ODS have released a first draft of the proposed cycle path via Cuckoo Lane and through Headington Park as below:  (Annotated/Original)

ODS Application

Oxfordshire County County as the Highway Authority, appears to have transferred its funding to Oxford City Council for the provision of Cycle Routes as per this Oxford City Council Decision.

ODS and OBU appear to have made no attempt to engage any community groups except Cyclox, or consider the needs of pedestrians or park users prior to developing proposals to near planning stage as evinced by the Cyclox application comment (for 21/01185/FUL the main CBSV application):

Over several months Brookes University has consulted with us with respect to cycling provision and in general, they have incorporated many of our suggestions. (Cyclox)

A “consultation” will occur with a wider audience once ODS have finalised its plans it seems. Even this is preempted by the now removed inclusion of the Cuckoo Lane entrance surfacing in the OBU planning application.

The apparent intention of the draft ODS Application (which is not a formal part of the current planning application) can be seen below, changing Cuckoo Lane into a cycle path, with another though Headington Hill Park: (light blue dotted lines)

Extract from: Walking & Cycling Routes – Connecting Oxford

The ODS Plan as it currently stands:

    • Widens Cuckoo Lane by only 0.5.m whereas pedestrians are expected to huddle, creating a 3m cycle path on a steep slope to the HHP entrance
    • Creates a forked path junction at the park entrance, destroying even more of the railings and ambiance than indicated in the OBU application 
    • Creating a highly dangerous swept curve shared by pedestrians and cyclists from Cuckoo Lane into the Park via the current iron railing entrance
    • Proposes repurposing of an official definitive public footpath (PROW) for cycling

The draft proposal does yet currently include the Pullens Lane -> Marston Road element after the HHP Cuckoo Lane entrance, or the descent to Marston lane but is indicated in the plan above as a light blue dashed line as below:

Objection Summary

OBU Application Objections

    • Damages the Headington Hill Conservation Area,(HHCA) damaging a heritage asset
    • Removes large amounts of green space to accommodate the “Arrival Glade”
    • Removes the charming “Victorian” and compatible railings in the Arrival Glade
    • Opens views, and makes the area part of a Stalinist, 1970s concrete monstrosity wholly unsympathetic to the HHCA

In addition, it was poorly advertised (only one park entrance had a yellow planning notification).  The documentation is provided is unnecessarily difficult to understand and supplied not in PDF, but in multipage TIFF, for which many do not have readers.  There are almost no photographs to explain precisely the effect of the proposals.

ODS Application (Cycle Path) Objections

    • Impacts severely on Conservation Area “significant view lines” as per the HHCA Appraisal
    • Forces pedestrians to a 0.5m strip of a public footpath, this is in effect prioritising cyclists, the minority of users
    • Creates a dangerous situation where cyclists are travelling rapidly downhill with no room to manoeuvre 
    • Will destroy the earth footpath running between trees between Cuckoo Lane
    • one branch of the Y fork is  pointless as it leads to the very narrow Cuckoo Lane section to Marston Lane
    • Will destroy the earth footpath running between trees between Cuckoo Lane replacing it with a cycle track, damaging root systems or requiring tree removal
    • replacing it with a cycle track, damaging root systems or requiring tree removal
    • Has been developed without any consultation with any identifiable group other than Cyclox

The delightful narrow footpath between Pullens Lane and Marston Lane after the HHP entrance appears also at risk, although this is not shown on the ODS draft Plan.

Improvements Required

For the OBU Planning application and ODS proposal the following improvements are required:

    • The Arrival Glade must be fundamentally redesigned to retain as much green space and railings as possible and reduce urban clutter to a minimum, retaining its current character compatible with the Park
    • The cycleway and surfaced path must be segregated in the Park and routed below the current footpath downslope below the current trees and the current footpath surfacing retained. See ODS Plan (annoted – alternative cycle route
    • Cuckoo Lane cannot be widened by only 0.5m for safety and amenity reasons, this must be increased with a slight easement into the allotments if agreed – there are footpath minimum width recommendations that must be complied with. (1.5m ) (ODS)
    • The Y shape (ODS) cycle path at the Cuckoo Lane entrance unnecessarily destroys too much of the parkland and fencing
    • Clear and complete documentation of the proposals addressing in detail surfacing, tree removal and other critical factors and resubmission

The “Arrival Glade” and New Gate

The slideshow below shows the “Arrival Glade” (Image 1) area as it currently is from Cuckoo Lane, and to Cuckoo Lane(2), and finally the “Arrival Glade” (3) illustration of the same area looking from Headington Hill Hall side over what was Cuckoo Lane.

The old gate and path into the campus to the left (pillar with green plaque, 1st picture) will be blocked up, and a new entrance formed as per the yellow annotation (New Gate, 1st & 2nd picture in slideshow above) The wall is part of Headington Hill Hall Grade II* Listing as part of its curtilage. This appears reasonable as the stone will be reused from the old gate.

Much more seriously, the proposal will create an “Arrival Glade” (3rd image in slideshow above) meaning that all the grass and railings seen here will be removed and resurfaced. In addition, the illustration clearly shows that in addition, the bedding behind the wall removed with its vegetation will be removed on the Headington Hill Hall side. (See General Plan Diagrams above, and 3rd image)

It is not clear how destroying this natural area which is concordant the Park and replacing it with urban, ugly surfacing could possibly be considered an improvement – it will lead to a major loss of character for the Conservation Area. There is no reason why the natural grass could not be preserved with stepping stone pathways and benches.

The applicant’s Heritage Assessment makes the absurd claim:

IMPACT ON THE HEADINGTON HILL CONSERVATION AREA

It is considered the proposals are of such a minor nature as to have no impact on the character or appearance of the Headington Hill Conservation Area.

Clearly this is nonsense, as is clear from a review of the relevant Planning Policies below:

When considering the impact of a proposed development on the significance of a designated heritage asset, great weight should be given to the asset’s conservation (and the more important the asset, the greater the weight should be). This is irrespective of whether any potential harm amounts to substantial harm, total loss or less than substantial harm to its significance. NPPF, July 2021 Para 199.

Any harm to, or loss of, the significance of a designated heritage asset (from its alteration or destruction, or from development within its setting), should require clear and convincing justification.’ NPPF, July 2021 Para 200.

d)  the harm or loss is outweighed by the benefit of bringing the site back into use. (NPPF, Para 201)

The Conservation Area is by definition a Heritage Asset.

Policy DH3: Designated heritage assets

b)  that the development of the proposal and its design process have been informed by an understanding of the significance of the heritage asset and that harm to its significance has been avoided or minimised; and

c)  that, in cases where development would result in harm has been properly and accurately assessed and understood, that it is justified, and that measures are incorporated into the proposal, where appropriate, that mitigate, reduce or compensate for the harm 

See also “Railings Around The Parks” in the section immediately below.

Essentially two tests need to be met from the foregoing policies:

Is Harm Caused To The Conservation Area?

Clearly, yes, the views, feel, greenery and railings are all destroyed, and the new buildings are overbearing, modern and ugly. The proposed path design is modern and urban, wholly out of keeping with the nature of Headington Hill Hall.

Is Harm Avoidable, and Has It Been Mitigated?

Yes – the Arrival Glade does NOT need to be paved over, the greenery can be retained, and the 1970s shopping centre development can be screened, and the arrival glade redesigned.

In addition, the modern look and feel to the overall path is discordant with Headington Hill Hall, and entirely unnecessary.

The Park Entrance and Footpath (ODS)

The above original railings will be removed to make way for the Cycle Path (see ODS Plan above)

The red annotation immediately above shows the proposal as per the ODS application (now removed from OBUs), and the blue in addition the draft ODS plan which will form a Y shaped cycle path from inside the park.

The below plan shows the Y shape, loss of fencing (red) loss of earth path (blue) with one branch emerging approximately at the red marked railing above, and another destroying the blue marked railing.

The purple line indicates a suggested alternative route that may permit segregation of pedestrians and cyclists and preserve the charm of the current path.

The Headington Hill Conservation Area Appraisal (2012) identified the railings as a positive feature:

Railings around the parks

These are relatively simple mid-20th century railings with no particular historic or architectural interest in themselves. However they do allow views into the parks from Headington Road, Morrell Avenue, and Warneford Lane, adding to the green character of these areas.

and:

The provision of a formal enclosure to the parks does provide a sense of definition to their area. At Headington Hill Park this has a particular value defining the area of the private park attached to Headington Hill Hall as laid in the 1850s

HHCA

It further identified heritage “significant view lines” (black arrows) as below at the entrance which will be severely impacted by a cycle path with surfacing and signage:

Headington Hill Conservation Area Appraisal (OCC) Map 3 (extract, annotated)

Cuckoo Lane – ODS Proposal

Cuckoo Lane is an ancient way from Old Headington into the city, which is recognised both in the Old Headington Conservation Area and Headington Hill Conservation Area, and as a local heritage asset between the two, alterations for cycling will urbanise this important heritage way.

Government statistics demonstrate that walking for both utility and recreational purposes is, compared to cycling, a far more popular activity.

Ramblers

Further, it is a designated public footpath (PROW), meaning cyclists have no right of way and in fact are trespassing if they use it as it passes over private land (Owned by Morells Farming Limited/OCC up to the median point).

Cuckoo Lane is a designated public FOOTpath (PROW) Source: Oxfordshire County Council

This section of Cuckoo Lane is an adopted public highway, meaning it is maintained at public expense, but only pedestrians have right of way.

Pedestrians form the majority of the users, even if that is changing, but the intended footpath split is 0.5m for pedestrians and 3m for cyclists. A footpath should be a minimum of 1.5m. Even with new rules for shared use, this is clearly insufficient.

The only reasonable resolution for this is to widen the carriageway and obtain an easement from the allotments and have a dismount rule at the entrance.

Following the cycle path’s entry into the Park, it connects to unmodified pedestrian paths.

In the case of the Park entrance near the Islamic Centre they are wholly unsurfaced, there is, quite literally NO joined up thinking.

Conclusions

There appears to be little rhyme or reason to the Arrival Glade surfacing – the author has almost never seen students on the current path and it seems unlikely the proposed uplift of 573 students would affect this substantially, it is destruction for no clear gain.

Both will damage the heritage, tranquillity and enjoyment of the park and to a lesser extent, Cuckoo Lane, however there is a clear social good at providing a family friendly, pollution and car free cycle path along Cuckoo Lane and the Park, possibly, with compromises, to Osler Road and beyond, so in principle this should be supported if at all possible.

However, a solution that involves pedestrians having to cower to one side, watch children every second while cyclists speed by on a sharp downward slope, the wholly unnecessary destruction of the ambiance of the area, coupled with aggressive, and pointless urbanisation cannot be acceptable.

Please take a little time NOW to OBJECT!

Author

Opinions expressed are mine alone, I do not represent anyone other than myself.

Mark


Headington Heritage, A personal blog

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Version 0.2 29/07/21

Version 0.3 06/08/21 – Added Cyclepath map, OCC Decision, Consultation, minor fixes.

Version 0.4 02/09/21 – Updated heritage section and explained application revisions.