Vision for Jericho Wharf development in jeopardy

Community groups and heritage campaigners call on Oxford City Council to reject new planning application – as developer abandons key features of landmark Jericho Wharf scheme

Posted - Nov 29, 2021

Cornerstone Land, the company behind the landmark development at Jericho Wharf, has dramatically revised critical elements of the scheme. The latest in a series of blows to this regeneration project is the removal of affordable housing. Oxford City Council’s policy for new housing units is that 50 per cent should be affordable. A previous application whittled this down to 33 per cent, now Cornerstone proposes zero per cent.

This setback compounds other recent downgrades to the development, including a sadly constrained public square encroached on by commercial housing that cuts off views of St Barnabas Church, a changed design to the boatyard which could expose it to frequent flooding, and the loss of the much-needed bridge across the canal. The current proposal thus unravels much of the original vision for this site – a vision adopted in a City planning document in 2014 and agreed by local community groups. 

The Jericho Wharf Trust (JWT), along with its individual members, which are the Jericho Community Association, the Jericho Community Boatyard, the Jericho Living Heritage Trust and the St Barnabas Parochial Church Council, are therefore asking the City to refuse planning permission. They are also calling on local people register their objections on the City Council website. 

JWT chair Phyllis Starkey says: “This is a huge disappointment and a blow to the local community. We were poised to embark with the developer on this long-delayed project, but now find that Cornerstone has changed its mind.”

Cornerstone maintains that the latest changes are needed for the scheme to generate a reasonable profit – which is normally assumed to be around 20 per cent of the sales value of the housing. To support its claim the developer has to provide the City planners with a ‘viability assessment’. The JWT has examined this report and discovered that it is seriously flawed because it significantly understates the likely income from selling the commercial houses.

To estimate the revenues, the report compares this unique, city-centre waterfront location in Jericho, a prime residential area in central Oxford, with house sales in two outer areas of the city, Barton and Wolvercote. Moreover, in the 12 months since these sales were noted, overall house prices in Oxford have risen by 16 per cent, and for new-builds by 18 per cent.

Feeding more realistic data into the calculations produces a very different answer, one that could increase the site’s revenues by up to £10 million. This transforms the viability of the project and reveals its true potential for both private and public benefit. Jericho Wharf can be a landmark achievement that the city will be proud of, while also providing the developer with a fair profit.

It might be argued that all this has gone on long enough, that we should just accept the proposal as it stands and get on with it. But that would be wrong, indeed irresponsible. For one thing a constrained site would compromise our ability to attract the large-scale funders needed to help fit out and complete the project, which also includes vital amenities in a new community centre. If we are to raise the funds quickly and effectively, the Jericho Wharf project should not just be workable, it must be wonderful.

Phyllis Starkey says: “This refusal should only be a temporary setback. We still believe that with goodwill on both sides, these and other outstanding issues can be resolved. We have already established the basis of a great scheme, and we can work with the developer and with the City Council, along with the Canal and River Trust and the Environment Agency to fulfill the original vision for Jericho Wharf as a vibrant new community and waterways hub.”

What next? This proposal is now open for public consultation until December 2. We would urge Jericho Wharf supporters to oppose this revised scheme on the following grounds.

1. No affordable housing – The City should demand the provision of affordable housing in Jericho that could be used by key workers and others who cannot afford the current high prices.

2. A constrained square – The square is too small, and hemmed in by housing to be an animated public space. The proposal should be assessed by the City’s independent Design and Review Panel to indicate whether it constitutes a usable space.

3. No canal bridge – The developer should be required to support ongoing efforts to design a bridge that satisfies the both the canal authorities and community needs. 

To see the JWT's detailed submission to the Planning Committee, addressing these and other issues, please click HERE.

Note: This planning application is now open for public consultation until December 2. It may be considered in the January 2022 meeting of the planning committee. To make a comment, you can use the search term 20/01276/FUL on the City Council’s planning website .

Houses in Wolvercote and Barton are considered to be equivalent in value to those in a prime, city-centre, waterfront location in Jericho.