Officers advise, Councillors decide

The Planning Committee meeting will be at 6.00 pm in the Town Hall on Wednesday March 23rd. It is also being livestreamed on the City Council YouTube channel

On March 23rd the City Council Planning Committee will decide on proposals for developing the Jericho Wharf site. This will be a crucial stage in a long-running saga of failed or unimplemented planning applications – and continuing community frustration. Unfortunately, this time the developer has fallen far short of what this unique site could offer.

Posted - Mar 20, 2022

Jericho Wharf should be an imaginative blend of commercial and affordable housing with valuable community facilities around an attractive and bustling public space that leads to a bridge linking communities across the canal. But over the past year the developer, Cornerstone Land, has made a series of retreats from this bold vision. It has now withdrawn the affordable housing and the bridge, and extended the commercial housing so that it encroaches on the piazza, reducing its viability as a space for events and activities.

Cornerstone’s justification for this diminished development is that they do not believe they will get sufficient income from the sale of commercial housing. Remarkably, the City Council planning officers have fallen in line with this assertion and are recommending the Planning Committee to approve the application.

This would be a disastrous decision, based on bad information. At the heart of the problem is a flawed assessment of the value of the site by the Council’s Stourbridge-based consultant who trades as Evolution. To estimate how much the developer could get from selling the houses, Evolution has cast around for comparisons and decided that the best options would be houses in Barton, Headington and Wolvercote. Anyone familiar with the Oxford housing market will know that the sale of a house in one of these areas will not buy you the same house in Jericho which has some of the highest prices in Oxford, even before you add on a premium for the canalside location.

An independent analysis commissioned by the Jericho Wharf Trust has concluded that the Evolution report is “fundamentally flawed in its valuation analysis process and recommendations”. While Evolution valued the sales at £22.9 million, current Jericho market evidence indicate that the real value is £28.5 million. 

This £6-million mistake has disastrous consequences that cascade across the site and beyond. 

  • Affordable housing – Zero provision – again - in an area that is crying out for it. A precedent for developers everywhere, and another body-blow to the cause of affordable housing.
  • Public square – A sadly cramped space with limited room for events and activities.
  • Community facilities – These will be at risk as it will be difficult for the JWT, or any organization, to raise funds from potential backers who are expecting an exciting vision of a vibrant new waterways hub.
  • Investment in Jericho – £6 million will flow straight out of Jericho, money which should have delivered planning benefits to the local community.

All the local community organisations have registered their opposition to these proposals -- as have the overwhelming majority of the nearly 250 submissions to public consultations. 

Jericho Wharf Trust Chair Phyllis Starkey says. “We are calling upon the planning committee to refuse this application. Rejecting what is currently proposed will open up the space for a far superior development that would become a wonderful asset, both for Jericho and Oxford as a whole – either   from this developer, or through other initiatives driven by the community and the City.”