Greater Greater Leys?

February 2009

A “greater Greater Leys” could be built as early as 2013 if city council plans go ahead. Oxford City Council plans to develop the land beyond Grenoble Road, creating a new housing estate that would surround Greater Leys.

The land in question is part of the Oxford Green Belt, which means that it has official protection from being developed and can only be built on in exceptional circumstances.

The plans to build are opposed by many different bodies, including Oxfordshire County Council, South Oxfordshire District Council, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the parish councils for Sandford, Horspath, Garsington and the Baldons.

Dr Helena Whall, campaign manager for the CPRE, said: "The city's plan to sprawl out over the land south of Grenoble Road must be stopped. They have no justification, but will make landowners, including the city itself, rich at the expense of the environment and of irreplaceable Green Belt land."

An independent panel recently ruled that Oxford’s housing problem, along with other factors, was enough to justify building the new estate on green belt land.

Cllr Bob Price, leader of Oxford City Council, said: “The housing needs of Oxford are very serious. They need to be dealt with and the land isn’t available within the city boundaries. A sustainable transport and housing policy means building where the jobs are.”

Dr Whall of the CPRE disagreed. “The development being proposed is mixed-use, with commercial developments planned. It won’t solve the imbalance between the number of jobs and the number of houses in Oxford, because the businesses on the new development will bring more people into Oxford to work.”

The exact number of houses on the proposed development is unclear. The city council originally announced that it planned to build 4,000 houses, which would nearly double the size of the Blackbird Leys / Greater Leys estate. Since then there have been reports of 8,000 and even 12,000 homes on the new site.

Leys residents are asking whether the council will provide enough facilities for people living in the proposed houses. Cllr Bob Price said: “Community facilities would probably include a primary school, provision for early years learning, a shop, community facilities like a community hall and recreation facilities.”

But Brian Lester, longtime resident and former chairman of Blackbird Leys Parish Council, has expressed doubt about the plans becoming reality. “The residents of this area have already been let down once by the politicians regarding infrastructure when the new part of Blackbird Leys was built, and I dare say that if this development goes forward we will be let down again.”

Transport is another key issue. A spokesman from the Oxford Green Belt Network described the new development as “a Kassam Stadium full of people to be added to the daily traffic jams in and out of the roads serving the Leys”.

However, the city council has ambitious plans for solving the transport problems. These include expanding the bus service, making road improvements and reopening the old railway line as a passenger service into central Oxford.