Goodbye Headington

Sunrise, Ash Grove, Headington, 07/2003 - a view now gone.

Goodbye to the quiet, pleasant suburb that once was Headington (Oxford).

I had to laugh at the Oxford Mail’s puff piece of the time (4th January 2016) for the new Barton Park (Oxford) development and its “waterfront” villas. The only waterfront will be the expanded drainage ditch, replenished … pumped up by surface water run-off from eight hundred and eighty five new houses in what was once the county’s Green Belt.

Never mind, it’ll all drain down to the lowest part of Oxford. All those old houses down by the river will just have to improve their flood defences.

It is quite amazing, as I watch with my cynic’s eye, how people are prepared to accept unquestioning the ever-changing presentations of the planners. Originally there was going to be no extra road junction on Oxford’s “Northern Bypass” – and some wondered about the traffic from nearly 1,000 extra houses funnelling through the Headington roundabout.

They will all be using bicycles! There will be strict controls over cars! But by 2017 it was clear from the roadworks that a new road junction was being built. And Oxford’s once fast Northern Bypass would become a city main road, albeit with dual-carriageway status. Wait for the inevitable complaints a few years down the road that traffic speeds are too high.

It is normal to have to move house in the course of a lifetime. But it would be better if such moves were driven by the necessities of work, rather than by the mistaken beliefs of city planners that it’s OK to play fast and loose with public expectations.

For Barton Park is just one part of the story. Another is the old Headington Cricket Ground, now Barton Willows (perhaps named after the trees the developers had to fell to make room for it). Originally willed for the benefit of the local community, the inconvenient original deed was lost, and the value of the land for development won out.

After a protest from local residents against the original development was won in 2003, ten years later the core rebels had left, the Green Belt status had been changed by government decree, and the development was passed on appeal (from the developer). Locals felt helpless and became resigned; at least the back gardens shown in the consultation documents were 18 – 20 metres in depth. So some privacy could still be enjoyed.

By early 2015 as the development progressed, it was clear that the houses were much closer than that; one resident measured the back garden of the house behind his as just 9.5 metres in depth, half that shown on the plans.

A protest to Oxford City planners, and the depth was found to be “within tolerance” for a planned garden depth of 10 metres. Ten metres? Yes, according to the new plans that emerged onto the city council’s website – after the consultation period was over.

The result for the established neighbouring community? No real privacy in the back gardens; ten metres is a lot closer than twenty. And no more sunrises from the rear bedroom of my house – now I have the pleasure of the back bedroom of another house, rather nearer than I originally thought.

In such a way are communities undermined. Dense housing, we know, forces people onto the streets to escape claustrophobic inner spaces. The same applies to gardens. It takes a special kind of person to enjoy inner-city living. Especially if they didn’t plan for it in the first place.

It is the march of time I suppose, but the once-quiet and pleasant outer suburb that was Headington is fast becoming an inner-city suburb, as Oxford City grows around it.

The writing on the wall is clear for those who value green space and pollution-free air. As time goes on, be prepared to move away and find somewhere else, preferably even further away from the capital.

However I have learnt one thing from all this – never trust a city planner. Their concerns are about planning new developments – not preserving the green space and room to to breathe of existing residents.

ps. This is a piece that was not published at the time. Nevertheless, the story is worth telling …

© Philip Hunt, 2018.


Leave a Reply