Draft Local Plan October 2012

WEST OXFORDSHIRE IN 2012

2.1 In this section we set out a brief profile of the District. This is important because the Local Plan cannot address every single issue, but must focus on those issues of greatest local importance to West Oxfordshire.

Location

2.2 West Oxfordshire is located in the south east of England in the County of Oxfordshire, which has borders with Warwickshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. The District's central location, coupled with its high environmental quality makes it an attractive place to live and work.

Figure 2.1 - West Oxfordshire in its wider setting

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Relationship to Other Areas

2.3 The District has functional links with a number of other areas. There is for example some movement of commuters between the District and Wiltshire, in particular Swindon as well as further afield to Reading and London. The closest links are however with the rest of Oxfordshire including in particular Oxford, which acts as the main 'hub' within the County and is the focus for the District's main transport connections. Oxfordshire also forms a relatively cohesive single housing market. Plans for major growth at Oxford and in the surrounding areas are a key consideration for the Local Plan, particularly in terms of the potential transport and economic implications.

Character

2.4 West Oxfordshire is a rural area and enjoys a strong sense of place derived from the Cotswold vernacular style of building, rolling countryside and river valleys. It is one of the least densely populated areas in the south east with almost 60% of the 81 parishes containing fewer than 500 residents. Dispersed across the District are around 130 separate towns, villages and hamlets, the three main towns being Witney (28,000) Carterton (16,000) and Chipping Norton (6,500). Underpinning these are six rural service centres; Bampton (2,500) Burford (1,300) Charlbury (3,000) Eynsham (5,000) Long Hanborough (2,400) and Woodstock (3,000). The remaining settlements comprise a number of medium-sized and smaller villages and hamlets.

2.5 The dispersed nature of the District means that despite a general level of affluence, some areas are classed as being within the most deprived in the country in terms of access to housing and services. This is of particular relevance for those living in relative poverty and in West Oxfordshire the majority of people claiming pension credit live in rural areas.

Population and Demographics

2.6 The District has a total population of almost 105,000 and is reasonably well-balanced in terms of different age groups although the number of older people (65+) is higher than the county and national averages and forecasts suggest the number of older people will increase, which has implications for housing, healthcare, the economy and transport.

Housing

2.7 The number of households in West Oxfordshire increased from 38,000 in 2001 to around 43,200 in 2011. Most of this growth has taken place at Witney and Carterton through major new housing developments at Madley Park and Shilton Park. As a desirable area to live, house prices in West Oxfordshire are above the national average and affordability is a major issue with around 2,000 households on the waiting list for affordable housing. There is a predominance of detached and semi-detached properties in the District and a relative shortage of smaller terraced properties and flats. This has implications not only for affordability but also for the suitability of the existing housing stock to meet future needs, with household sizes forecast to decline in line with national trends.

Transport

2.8 The District's main transport connections reflect the focus on Oxford and London. Rail services connecting to Birmingham and London pass through a small part of the eastern fringe of the District. The Cotswold line passes through the largely rural central part of the District, connecting several small towns and villages with Hereford in the west and Oxford and London in the east. Witney and Carterton, the two largest settlements, are connected to Oxford by high frequency bus services. Other bus services operate throughout the rural area with varying frequencies but many require ongoing public subsidy. Most cycle and pedestrian routes are focused on the main towns.

2.9 A large number of people commute out of the District to work, particularly to Oxford and the employment locations in the Abingdon and Didcot area. Many journeys continue to be made by private car causing congestion on major routes, particularly the A40, A44 and A415 as well as within towns. As a result, central areas of Chipping Norton and Witney have been identified as failing national air quality standards.

The Local Economy

2.10 The local economy continues to perform well despite the recession, with generally vibrant retail centres, high rates of economic activity, relatively low unemployment, high rates of business formation and a relatively skilled workforce. There are about 49,000 jobs in the District with significant manufacturing, engineering, retail and tourism sectors. Many businesses are located within or next to one of the larger towns and villages but there is a diversity of mainly smaller business sites and businesses in the rural area.

2.11 One of the main issues for West Oxfordshire is the growth of major employment centres nearby including Science Vale UK which will inevitably compete for investment. It will therefore be essential for the Local Plan to provide enough high quality employment land in the right places so that the District is able to compete for inward investment. The successful roll-out of high speed broadband will also be essential for economic growth, particularly in the rural areas.

Leisure & Recreation

2.12 The District offers various leisure and recreation opportunities. The three main towns each have leisure centres although the Witney and Carterton facilities are in need of enhancement and expansion respectively. There are also other known requirements in some parts of the District such as for additional playing pitches. The rural nature of the District lends itself to walking, cycling and other leisurely pursuits and in the south of the District water-based opportunities are presented by the River Thames and the various lakes created as a result of sand and gravel extraction in the Lower Windrush Valley.

Health and Well-Being

2.13 Primary and secondary health care in West Oxfordshire is provided by a network of 16 local GP practices and two hospitals, the Witney Community Hospital and the War Memorial Community Hospital in Chipping Norton. Generally speaking, the health of West Oxfordshire's residents is better than the England average and life expectancy is around two years longer, for both men and women. However, there is still room for improvement in some areas including obesity.

Education

2.14 Throughout much of the District primary schools are either already under pressure or are forecast to fill as pupil numbers are increasing. At the secondary level, whilst a new secondary facility may be needed to support new development in Witney, there is flexibility elsewhere. In terms of further education, Abingdon and Witney College offers part time and full time further and higher education courses and also works with secondary schools offering part time courses for 14-16 yr olds. The college has recently redeveloped part of its site to provide enhanced facilities.

Natural Environment

2.15 The District has a rich natural environment with around 34% falling within the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Land on the eastern edge of the District is within the Oxford Green Belt and at Cassington Meadows there is a Special Area of Conservation (of European importance). There are also a number of Sites of Special Scientific Interest, areas of Ancient Woodland and Local Wildlife Sites. There is however a need to further enhance and extend habitats to develop networks and a series of Biodiversity Target Areas have been identified where the restoration and enhancement of habitats would have the greatest benefit.

2.16 There are several rivers flowing through West Oxfordshire which are important corridors for biodiversity, provide opportunities for recreation and form part of the setting of many towns and villages. However they also present a flood risk, with severe flooding events affecting many communities in 2007.

2.17 West Oxfordshire contains some extensive sand and gravel and limestone resources, the extraction of which needs to be managed to protect environmental quality and public amenity and help ameliorate flood risk. Significant mineral extraction has already occurred and continues in the Lower Windrush Valley with after-uses presenting opportunities for leisure and tourism as well as creating opportunities for nature reserves.

Historic Environment

2.18 The District has a rich archaeological and architectural heritage including 3,200 listed buildings, 149 scheduled monuments, 51 conservation areas and 16 parks and gardens of special historic interest. Blenheim Palace at Woodstock has been designated as a World Heritage Site (WHS) and is a major asset to the District and key visitor attraction.