A resounding refusal

All ten members of the Planning Committee vote to refuse the application

On March 23rd the Oxford City Council planning committee unanimously refused the application by Cornerstone Land for the development of Jericho Wharf.

Posted - Mar 24, 2022

At the meeting it was clear that the Jericho Wharf application raised fundamental questions of principle, about affordable housing, the need for good public space, for a car-free development, and a bridge – principles which the councillors were determined to uphold.

The developer was aiming to minimize its contribution to the public realm on the grounds it would not generate sufficient revenue from the housing sales. But it soon became clear this argument was based on a viability assessment that was fundamentally flawed. Committee members responded with incredulity when they learned the developer and the planning officers had settled on a valuation of the site that took no account of its location. In the absence of ready ‘comparators’, house values were based instead on houses in Barton, Headington and Wolvercote, rather than reflecting the prime inner-city canalside location. As a result, Jericho Wharf Trust (JWT) Chair Phyllis Starkey said: “This application has short-changed Jericho by about £6 million”.

JWT’s critique of the viability assessment was presented by David Edwards, a chartered surveyor, and a former Executive Director of Oxford City Council. “Location is a pretty important determinant that can change not just within one or two miles, but within one or two streets. There is not that much evidence in Jericho, but what there is forms a pattern – in Cranham Street for example, or in Foundry House, where there are sales of around £1,000 per square foot. Guidance from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors indicates that when there is a scarcity of evidence, you have to draw it all together analyse it and triangulate it and build a framework – which was not done in this case.  But everyone in this room knows that you cannot buy a house in Jericho for the price of a house in Barton or Headington.” 

Edwards said that the valuation by the Council’s consultant Evolution was 20% less than the market value and even less than the developer’s own low estimate – a strange result and probably a “planning first.”

The officers had argued there was a review mechanism which would allow the City to claw back 60% of the excess profits. But as Councillor Upton said: “We could use this for social housing. But we could not use it for social housing in Jericho when all our plans are about getting a good mix of housing.”

Jericho local Councillor Lizzie Diggins, who had recused herself from voting on the committee so she could publicly campaign against the scheme said: “I'm really disappointed that there are no desperately needed affordable homes. Local residents have said to me that their children will never be able to afford to live in the area they grew up in.”

There were also concerns about the piazza. Councillor Liz Wade said: “The public open space is a known requirement for this development and should be appropriate to the setting for Saint Barnabas church.  We should refuse until we have a proper public space.”

Councillor James Fry wondered why the Design Review Panel was not called upon. And as for the valuation, everybody knows that there is a huge Jericho premium. Why not use as comparators Waterside, say or William Lucy Way?

Councillor Nigel Chapman went through other principles which the application flouted. Instead of social housing we have “jam tomorrow”. Then there is the issue of car parking. “This an iconic site, a once in a lifetime opportunity. We need a consensus that everyone can embrace and move together”. 

Winding up the discussion, Committee Chair Colin Cook said: “A lot is asked of this site, and so it should be. This was public land owned by British Waterways who asset stripped it.” As for the values, he pointed out that Jericho was clearly different. “In the Sunday Times in 2017 Jericho was voted the 11th best place to live in the country. Barton and Wolvercote will not be on that list any time soon.” 

Councillor Cook added: “This is a site where the City Council is contributing housing land in the form of the Dawson Place garages. I think it is unconscionable that we as a City Council are putting housing land to this scheme and not getting the benefit of some social housing”. Receiving the value later in other parts of the City would, he said, be a form of “social cleansing.” The ten Councillors then voted unanimously to reject the application.

After the meeting JWT Chair Phyllis Starkey said. “In the months leading up to the meeting the JWT made every effort to convince the planning officers that they were making a grave mistake in accepting the viability analysis offered by their consultants. Unfortunately, they rejected this advice, and in addition took no account of evidence we presented that  the public square would be unviable. We are, however, still very happy to work with Cornerstone or any other developer to realize what should indeed be an iconic development of which we can all be proud."


A recording of the meeting is available on YouTube by clicking here.