Draft Core Strategy January 2011 - interactive online version

Existing Employment Sites, Farm Diversification and Tourism

7.8 One of the key strengths of the West Oxfordshire economy is its diversity, both in terms of the types of businesses but also the locations and types of employment sites and business premises available in the main towns and rural areas. Diversity provides resilience during economic down turns and a range of employment opportunities at varied skill levels.

7.9 Employment sites are those with office-based, industrial and warehouse/storage uses (known as the B-use classes) but may also contain other employment generating uses. Employment uses do not include housing and care homes. Uses such as cafés, crèches, or trade counters, may improve the functionality and attractiveness of an employment site and help to facilitate the refurbishment and regeneration of premises. This will be supported although retail and leisure proposals on employment sites, unless ancillary, will need to consider the town centre first approach (See Policy CS18).

7.10 High residential land values mean that conversion or redevelopment of existing employment sites to housing is an economically attractive option. The loss of such sites would undermine the sustainability of rural communities and the economic diversity of West Oxfordshire. The Council will seek the retention of all employment sites where there is an ongoing prospect of continuing employment use.

7.11 In some cases however continuing employment use may not be economically viable or suitable. In such circumstances the Council will require robust evidence that continuing employment use has been fully tested before non-employment generating uses are permitted. In considering the loss of existing employment sites the Council will take account of prevailing economic conditions. During economic downturns the retention of employment sites to aid long term recovery will be important despite evidence of a lack of short term demand.

7.12 In limited circumstances non-employment generating uses may be allowed where they offer community benefits which cannot otherwise be achieved and outweigh the loss of economic activity.

7.13 In a changing economic climate businesses may need to expand or redevelop existing employment sites to meet their changing needs. This enables efficient and continued use to be made of existing employment sites. The scale of new business development permitted through business expansion or through the redevelopment will reflect the character of the area and access opportunities. In some circumstances where businesses have outgrown their site, the impacts on the environment and local community may not be acceptable and relocation to a larger, more accessible site will be the most appropriate solution.

Policy CS15 - Existing Employment Sites

Employment sites are those which include employment generating uses, primarily office-based, industrial or storage and distribution activities. Community, leisure, or retail uses (such as cafes, crèches or trade counters) will be allowed on employment sites where the use is complementary and compatible to the functioning of the employment site and the local community, and conforms with town centre policy (see Policy CS18).

Proposals to improve the effectiveness of business operations on existing employment sites will be supported where commensurate with the scale and character of the area. This may include the redevelopment of sites, replacement buildings or the expansion of existing businesses.

Non-employment generating uses, including all housing related development, will only be allowed on established employment sites or on sites allocated in a development plan for employment development where:

  • it can be demonstrated that the site or premises are not reasonably capable of being used or redeveloped for employment purposes; or
  • the site or premises are considered unsuitable on amenity, environmental or highway safety grounds for employment uses; or
  • substantial community benefits would be achieved by allowing alternative forms of development.

Farm Diversification

7.14 Although employment in agriculture has declined, farming remains a major land user in West Oxfordshire and plays an essential role in shaping and maintaining the character of the countryside. The need to protect home food production is important to reduce food miles and profitable farming is also the most cost effective means of delivering environmental and landscape management benefits.

7.15 However, the diversification into non-agricultural activities can be vital to continuing viability of many farm businesses. The long term prospects of agriculture are reportedly good, although there is continual need to adapt to changing subsidy regimes, emerging markets, evolving environmental, hygiene and animal welfare standards and climate change.

7.16 The Council is generally supportive of well-conceived farm diversification schemes which secure long term benefits for farming and the local economy. Farm diversification schemes should be complementary to the agricultural operations, compatible and consistent in scale with a rural location and not result in the loss of amenity to local people or spoil the enjoyment of other users of the countryside. Farm diversification is not an opportunity for asset stripping to raise short term revenues. A farm business plan and management plan should accompany applications for diversification proposals, providing evidence to demonstrate compatibility and integration with the farm business.

7.17 Farm diversification should not result in the excessive expansion or encroachment of buildings in the countryside. Existing buildings should be reused where feasible. Where this is not possible new buildings should be within a group of existing farm buildings and designed and located so they can be integrated within the landscape.

7.18 Farm diversification may include setting up farm shops to sell homegrown and local produce. The acceptability of proposals for farm shops will need to be weighed up against any impact on existing village or town centre shops serving the local community. Conditions will be applied limiting the type of goods sold and proportion of externally sourced goods.

7.19 Country Estates manage a variety of natural, historic and cultural assets of importance locally, nationally or internationally, often in addition to a farming enterprise and contributing to the wider economy through providing business premises and tourism opportunities. These estates continue to seek to diversify their incomes in a similar way to farm diversification. The diversification of estate economies will be supported where it provides a sustainable approach to balancing economic activity with the conservation and enhancement of natural and built assets. This should be demonstrated through an estate management plan.

Policy CS16 - Farm and Country Estate Diversification

Development proposals which make a positive contribution to farm or country estate diversification will be supported where they will be:

  • operated as part of and add value to the core farm/estate business
  • compatible and consistent in scale with the farm/estate operation and a countryside location
Where a diversification scheme is proposed, a farm or country estate business plan and management plan should show how the scheme would contribute to the ongoing viability of the farm business or country estate and the management of the built and natural environment. Priority will be given to the re-use (or replacement) of existing buildings to accommodate diversification proposals.

A sustainable tourism economy

7.20 Tourism is an important and growing economic sector in West Oxfordshire estimated to be worth over £200 million to the local economy each year. This reflects the area's attractive countryside, the River Thames and its tributaries, historic Cotswold market towns and villages and a range of visitor attractions. Most of these attractions have a cultural or historic affinity with the area and its rural character.

7.21 Through the Oxfordshire Cotswolds brand, the local tourism strategy[1] seeks to capitalise on West Oxfordshire's inherent assets and promotes tourism development which complements and enhances them. The Council will continue the long held approach seeking the optimum use of existing tourist facilities and encouraging generally small scale new tourist facilities and attractions which can be more easily assimilated into the landscape and local communities. Larger new attractions, which generate significant visitor numbers, are more appropriate in the main towns, where there are public transport opportunities, and traffic impact on rural roads can be minimised. Green Travel Plans and Visitor Management Plans may also be necessary.

7.22 For some facilities, such as hotels and restaurants, a town centre location will be most appropriate although other locations may be acceptable taking into account both the town centre first approach and specific locational and functional requirements.

7.23 Visitor-related facilities may offer benefits to existing local communities, such as supporting local food producers, shops and pubs or new recreational opportunities. Locating new visitor related development within or close to existing settlements will enable the potential wider community benefits to be realised whilst minimising the spread of development into the open countryside. In some cases tourism development in the open countryside may be justified if associated with a particular countryside attraction or a farm diversification scheme. Existing buildings should be utilised wherever possible although replacement buildings should be considered where this would result in a more sustainable development

7.24 Where tourist accommodation is proposed in locations where new dwellings would not normally be permitted the Council will impose planning conditions or require legal agreements restricting buildings to holiday accommodation use.

7.25 The location, scale and design of any new development must be appropriate to the area and its environmental impact will be carefully assessed and weighed against any economic and community benefits. Tourism investment and visitor spending can support the management and conservation of historic and natural sites, local traditions, events and the distinctive features of the Cotswolds AONB and other designated areas. Tourism enterprises and visitors are encouraged to support practical conservation initiatives. The afteruse of former mineral workings in the Lower Windrush Valley may offer particular opportunities for leisure and tourism development. The Lower Windrush Valley Project was set up to co-ordinate such opportunities alongside achieving habitat creation and conservation.

Policy CS17 - Sustainable Tourism

Tourism and leisure development which utilises and enriches the natural and built environment and existing attractions of West Oxfordshire to the benefit of visitors and local communities will be supported.

New tourist and visitor facilities will be located within or close to existing settlements and reuse existing buildings wherever possible. In the open countryside new tourism and visitor facilities may be justified where there is a functional linkage with a particular countryside attraction or to secure the diversification of a farm enterprise or Country Estate (see Policy CS16).

Subject to specific locational or functional requirements, the town centre first approach (see Policy CS18) will be applied to tourism and leisure development including hotels and conference facilities, theatres, museums, galleries, cinemas, restaurants, bars, pubs, nightclubs and more intensive sport and recreational uses

National guidance is contained within PPS4: Planning for Sustainable Economic Growth and Good Practice Guide on Planning for Tourism - www.communities.gov.uk/planningandbuilding


1. www.westoxon.gov.uk/tourism [back]