In brief, the Inspector allowed Cornerstone’s appeal based on a new viability assessment from the City Council which acknowledged that its previous valuation was flawed and too low but suggested that this was now offset by building cost inflation. The Inspector also pointed out to the developer and the Council officers that the church land in the proposed scheme is not in his jurisdiction and requires a separate consent from the church authorities (known as an Ecclesiastical Faculty). The timing for this separate application and for other consents is the developer’s decision.
The Council officers wish to start another review of the proposed community facilities, and the Trust has agreed a process and a meeting has been arranged.
The Inspector’s report is available here. An Inspector may hear new evidence and there remains the general presumption in favour of development. Shortly before the appeal hearing Council officers submitted a new viability report. This confirmed that the previous Council report was flawed, as the Planning Committee and the Trust had argued. The new report increased the market residential value from £22.8 million to £25.3 million-effectively adding £2.5 million back into the scheme.
The new viability report also added a further allowance for inflation onto the costs from the previous report, which offset the increase in value. But while the consultant-authors re-emphasised previous significant concerns over the earlier costings, these were not pursued by Council officers. The Inspector considered that the costs were within an allowable margin of error and that as a consequence no funding was available for affordable housing unless the development made an excess profit (see Affordable Housing below).
The Jericho Canalside Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) sets out the Council’s detailed policies for the site, following community consultations and approved by councillors. An administrative oversight meant that the Council omitted the SPD as part of the current Local Plan approval-although it still lists it as an ‘important document’. The developer, with officers’ support, argued that the SPD now has no status, but the Trust has legal advice to the contrary. The Inspector avoided commenting on the legal issue but decided to place less weight on these policies.
The Inspector pointed out that legally his decision did not apply to church land which was included in the planning application. A separate application to the church authorities is required (known as an Ecclesiastical Faculty). We do not know when, or if, this new application will be made by the developer.
Following discussions with JWT, the Canal and River Trust (CRT) published details of the navigational safety standards. These would allow a new crossing into the canalside development, rebutting the developer’s assertion that a bridge is not possible. Local Plan and SPD policies support a new crossing here. JWT’s advisers believe that the Environment Agency (EA) previous objections can similarly be resolved. However, the Inspector assumed that the EA’s rejection of the developer’s proposals for a new crossing was final. Council officers are arranging a further meeting with the CRT.
As an alternative to a new crossing the Inspector preferred the replacement the current Mount Place crossing, which was advocated by the developer and Council officers, although this is contrary to the Council’s Local Plan and SPD policies. Council officers have agreed a fixed payment from the developer for the replacement of the bridge (refundable if not spent within 10 years) although they have no designs for this structure. Modern access and gradient standards would require significant ramps (possibly 50 meters or more) which suggest a major impact on Mount Place gardens. This is unlikely to be acceptable to the community.
When the previous scheme received planning permission in 2016, the developer committed to build the boatyard facility and in addition to provide £150K to kick-start the fund-raising that JWT would be undertaking to provide the community centre facilities. However, when bringing forward the current scheme Cornerstone announced that they would provide both boatyard and (phase 1) community centre facilities to ‘shell and core’; leaving JWT / the community to raise the funding required for fit-out of both facilities. Subsequently they modified this position, asking for a JWT contribution to the shell and core as well; and during the past two years the developer’s figure for this additional contribution (labelled ‘Boatyard Extras’) has ballooned from £0.3 million to £1.5 millions. Attempts to resolve the funding issues were abandoned in October 2022, when Cornerstone used the Council’s flawed valuation report to justify their withdrawal of any affordable housing provision – and JWT concluded that the proposed scheme could no longer be supported.
Given the Inspector’s decision and therefore the present context, the Trust will follow the position it has always given to the developer and to Council officers: that any community fund-raising needs to be phased, and its success is dependent on the quality and aspiration of the development as perceived by grant-providing organisations. The community organisations will review what is a realistic contribution if the current scheme proceeds. But the quality of the scheme has deteriorated, with a diminished public square, no new bridge crossings and no social housing. This has significantly reduced the ambition for the vibrant canalside hub needed to attract the attention of national funding bodies.
JWT, the church and partner community groups believe that a major opportunity is being lost in failing to deliver affordable housing in Jericho at a time of a housing crisis, where there are few opportunities to provide affordable homes in this high-cost location.
The Inspector relied on the promise of a proportion of the excess development profits being allocated to affordable housing in Oxford, but Council officers acknowledged it would not benefit Jericho residents. These profit-sharing arrangements are weak as cost control lies with the developer who also shares in any excess profits. When council housing in Grantham House, Cranham Street was sold in 2011, councillors promised £1 million for social housing in Jericho ‘as a priority’ and to consult with local councillors - yet still nothing has been delivered.
The Trust has pointed out significant practical concerns with the approved designs to the developer’s architects and Council officers: how the docks are designed to flood, on the advice of the Environment Agency, with a frequency that makes insurance impossible; and how vehicle access for deliveries and collections is only possible across the public square. The developer’s team are finally engaging with the Boatyard Trust to try to resolve these problems.
The size of the proposed community facilities and boatyard is based on a series of Council ‘Needs Assessments’ for Jericho, a community that does not have access to other facilities. The scale of the proposed facilities was increased to provide income from lettings to subsidise social activities; unlike other community centres across the city the Council does not intend to provide capital or revenue funding for Jericho’s community facilities but wants these subsidised through additional lettings. The Council officers wish to undertake a further review of the facilities and have agreed a process with JWT. A meeting has been agreed; but any reduction in facilities income may require Council capital or revenue funding as a consequence.