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Draft Core Strategy January 2011 - interactive online version
Strategy for Witney
4.2 Witney, a vibrant and historic market town, is the largest service centre, meeting many of the employment, shopping, leisure and other needs of most of West Oxfordshire's residents. The town has the best road connections and bus services in the District context, although traffic congestion is a significant issue. Reflecting this role Witney has been the location for much of the past housing and employment growth and its population has more than doubled in the last 30 years to its present 27,000. The town continues to be the most sustainable location for further development although significant issues and challenges, identified from background evidence and through consultation, must be addressed.
Transport, accessibility and parking
4.3 Traffic congestion and air pollution in the historic central area is a key issue. The main need is to provide acceptable alternative routes for traffic to move within the town without passing through the central area and Bridge Street in particular (a designated Air Quality Management Area). Oxfordshire County Council has identified the Cogges Link Road as the most effective scheme. Planning permission for this new distributor road crossing the River Windrush on the eastern side of Witney was granted in 2009 however the scheme is subject to statutory procedures before construction can commence. In addition proposals for a new junction between the A40 and Downs Road are at an advanced stage. Delivery of these two highway schemes will continue to be a priority.
4.4 Land is also safeguarded for two other highway schemes - between Mill Street and Hailey Road (West End Link Phase 2) to provide a further river crossing and at the A40 Shores Green junction to the east of Witney to provide west facing slip roads. These schemes, if progressed, will further help to improve the local road network but no funding has been allocated. The West End Link Phase 2 will be expected to be delivered if any further significant development occurs to the north of the town. These safeguarded schemes will need to be progressed with the utmost urgency in the event that the Cogges Link Road is not built.
4.5 Given the highway constraints in the town, there is a particular need to enhance pedestrian, cycle and public transport links and related infrastructure. The management of parking is also part of the package to facilitate use of more sustainable modes of transport and to reduce car use for short journeys. The Council's long standing position has been not to charge for parking to maintain the attractiveness of the town centre as a retail and employment hub. Car parking is managed through time restrictions - the effectiveness of which is kept under review.
4.6 There have been several flood instances in the Witney area and severe flooding of properties occurred in July 2007. The Council has been working with the Environment Agency and other partners to identify and address flooding issues . Any significant new development in the town will need to ensure that adequate drainage and flood mitigation measures are implemented.
Market town character and setting
4.7 Witney grew up as a valley settlement near crossing points of the River Windrush. The river and associated floodplain forms a significant green corridor that is an important part of the character of the town and historic setting as well as being an ecological and recreational resource. A management strategy for the area was agreed by the Council in 2005 - the Windrush in Witney Project. Local Plan policy also applies (WIT3 in particular).
4.8 Much of the central area with its many listed buildings and important open spaces is within a Conservation Area which extends across the Windrush to include Cogges Manor Farm to the east, a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
4.9 The landscape surrounding the town is a mix of valley floor, valley side and open ridge and is generally sensitive to new development . Land to the north and east rises to form a prominent ridge which is a backdrop in many views to and from the town and where there are remnants of the ancient landscape of the Wychwood Forest. Development intrusive in these views will be resisted. There are several villages in relatively close proximity to the edge of Witney including Hailey, Ducklington, and Curbridge whose separate identity will be protected.
4.10 Significant investment on supporting community infrastructure will be needed to satisfactorily accommodate major new development. Existing primary schools are largely at capacity and further secondary school provision will also be needed. There are well-advanced proposals to redevelop the Abingdon and Witney College and for a new replacement medical centre at the nearby Windrush Health Centre.
4.11 The town's leisure facilities are very well used and the main leisure centre has recently undergone some refurbishment. There is ongoing need for further investment in Witney's built sports facilities. There is a specific need for further allotments - with a current waiting list of around 2 years. New residential development will need to make satisfactory provision of play space, playing pitches and facilities for young people, as well as general amenity space and provision for biodiversity.
Business and employment
4.12 Witney is the main economic centre in the District and its role as a centre for blanket manufacturing was important in the town's expansion. Today the economy is diverse with a range of shopping, leisure and tourist facilities and accommodation, several small employment sites throughout the town and large employment estates on the southern and western edges. The town retains a strong manufacturing and engineering presence, and the availability of good quality employment sites on the western side of the town has attracted significant investment, including some high technology manufacturers linked to the health care sector . Further development in this area will help contribute to the Oxfordshire high tech economy as well as help to reduce commuting to the Oxford area.
4.13 The retention of existing employment sites is significant to the supply of premises offering a range of employment locations. Some upgrading of existing employment premises is needed and this can be facilitated by the availability of new land, enabling businesses to move and expand. There is considerable potential for redevelopment of Station Lane employment estates in the medium to longer term. Relieving congestion and investment in the transport infrastructure is also necessary to support further economic growth. The delivery of the A40/Downs Road junction in particular is identified as a priority to support further employment development.
4.14 Around 10ha of land remains available on several sites within the large employment area to the west of the town. As there are good prospects for this land to be developed, it will be retained in the strategy. This will be supplemented by an additional 10ha (minimum) of new employment land within the new community to be provided south of Range Road. This provision of employment land could provide in the region of 2,000 extra jobs in the town (around 3,000 when additional retail or other jobs are included).
Town centre and shopping
4.15 Witney is the primary shopping destination serving West Oxfordshire and beyond. With the historic Market Place and High Street at its core, the centre retains its market town character and has a large number of independent and national multiple retailers and service uses. Recent developments including the Marriott's Walk town centre expansion and the extension to the Woolgate Centre have enhanced the shopping and leisure offer of the town. A primary shopping frontage, where the loss of shops will be resisted, is defined linking Marriott's Walk and Woolgate, ensuring that the benefits of recent shopping development reinforce the role of the existing High Street and the town centre as a whole.
4.16 New town centre development should follow the town centre first approach. It should also seek to strengthen in particular the attractions of Marriott's Walk, the Woolgate Centre and the High Street connector. Further significant expansion of the town centre is unlikely in the short to medium term . A potential longer term opportunity to accommodate town centre uses that cannot be met by organic growth within the town centre exists to the south of Welch Way opposite the Marriott's Walk development.
4.17 The policy approach to retaining the character of Church Green will continue through resisting its commercialisation and the spread of the town centre (existing Local Plan Policy WIT1 applies).
4.18 Any further significant growth of Witney must take place on land adjoining the town as there is only limited capacity within the existing built up area . Several strategic site options have been considered to the north, east, south and west of the town (an assessment of these options is available in the Witney Sustainability Appraisal).
4.19 Land to the west is identified as the most sustainable and deliverable option to meet housing and other needs during the next 10 years and received the most support through public consultation. Development to the west of the town is not dependent on construction of the Cogges Link Road, puts less pressure on the most sensitive areas of the highway network (Bridge Street and the Air Quality Management Area), and with the incorporation of significant green infrastructure, will have less overall landscape impact. There will be good highway connections; construction of the A40/Downs Road junction with access to both east and west is a prerequisite of further significant development in this area. Existing pedestrian and cycle routes and high frequency bus services serving the town centre and Oxford can be linked to new development.
Policy CS5 - Strategy for Witney
Proposals for development in Witney should be consistent with the strategy which includes:
Progress in the delivery of transport schemes will be monitored, with the need for alternative or additional schemes kept under review alongside the longer term development requirements of the town. If there is any need for expansion of Witney in areas other than to the west (see Policy CS6) this will be unacceptable in the absence of new transport infrastructure to increase the number of river crossings and reduce congestion in the Bridge Street area, satisfactory education infrastructure, appropriate flood alleviation measures and proposals which will meet local needs and successfully integrate new development into the existing town and its countryside setting.
Policy CS6 - West Witney Strategic Development Area
Proposals for development should be consistent with the following:
a) land north of Range Road and east of Downs Road - primarily employment uses, including the development of remaining land and redevelopment/refurbishment of older buildings. This area will be given priority in promotion of employment opportunities for small-medium sized businesses;
b) land west of Downs Road - leisure/recreation and employment development/redevelopment appropriate for the town fringe;
c) land south of Range Road and east of Downs Road - to accommodate a comprehensive mixed use community to form a positive addition to Witney, including:
i. about 1,000 homes with a range of residential accommodation to meet identified needs, including homes specifically for older people;
ii. new employment opportunities to maximise job creation, including a minimum of 10 hectares of land primarily for business and general industrial uses with emphasis on high technology manufacturing. Priority will be given to the promotion of opportunities for larger employers;
iii. a primary school and provision for secondary education;
iv. local shopping, community and leisure facilities;
v. provision for green space, including allotments, public playing fields and associated changing room facilities;
vi. supporting transport infrastructure, including proposals to mitigate the impact of traffic associated with the development, and incorporating a comprehensive network for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport with links to adjoining areas;
vii. appropriate measures to mitigate traffic noise;
viii. measures to mitigate the impact of the development upon the environment, including the planting of new areas of woodland and the protection and enhancement of features of nature conservation and landscape value.
Proposals within this area will demonstrate the use of renewable energy, sustainable design and construction methods, with a high level of energy efficiency in new buildings. Development will be phased in accordance with the timing of provision of supporting infrastructure and facilities, with priority given to early provision of a new A40 junction at Downs Road to accommodate all traffic movements.
Figure 4.2 Witney Strategy (click to enlarge)
Figure 4.3 Witney Town Centre (click to enlarge)
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