Draft Local Plan October 2012

Witney Sub-Area

Description

9.3 The Witney sub-area has a population of about 34,000. Most people (28,000) live in Witney itself, a vibrant and historic market town famed for its association with the blanket industry. Witney is the District's largest town and acts as the main service centre, offering a broad range of housing and employment opportunities as well as key services and facilities including retailing, health care, leisure and culture. There are a number of villages and hamlets on the fringes of Witney including Crawley, Hailey, Ducklington and Curbridge. Although these places offer some local facilities they naturally look to Witney for most essential services.

Housing

9.4 As the largest settlement, most of the housing in this sub-area is located in Witney which has experienced major growth over the last 30 years, more than doubling its population. Much of this growth has been accommodated through successive urban extensions in the post-war era, to the north, west and east of the town. Property prices are high and there is considerable housing need (people who cannot afford to buy or rent a suitable property at market prices) with about 900 households on the housing waiting list with Witney as a preferred location.

9.5 In accordance with the overall strategy, Witney will be the focus of future housing growth in this sub-area, however further housing opportunities within the built up area of the town are relatively limited and to accommodate the level of growth identified, there is a need to develop on the fringes of the town on Greenfield land. Two strategic allocations are proposed including West Witney (1,000) and East Witney (300). Further information on these and the alternative options that have been considered is provided below. New housing in the rest of the sub-area will be generally limited to meeting local community and business needs and in accordance with Core Policy 2 will be steered towards the larger villages.

Employment

9.6 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 Oxford Bioscience Cluster.

9.7 It is essential that Witney continues to provide a range of high quality employment sites so that it is able to compete effectively with major growth areas such as Swindon and Science Vale UK. Providing good employment opportunities could also help reduce the currently high level of 'out-commuting'. In accordance with the overall strategy, Witney will be the main focus for additional employment land provision within the District.

9.8 Around 10ha of land remains on several sites within the large employment area to the west of the town. There are good prospects for this land to be developed, with much of it subject to current business interest. It will therefore be retained in the strategy and supplemented by at least 10ha of new employment land to be provided as part of the West Witney Strategic Development Area (SDA). The provision of new employment land will also facilitate the upgrading of Witney's existing employment stock through the provision of modern business premises enabling businesses to move and expand. There is for example considerable potential for redevelopment of the Station Lane employment estates in the medium to longer term.

9.9 Employment provision in the rest of the sub-area will generally be limited to meeting local community and business needs. Rural diversification projects will be supported in principle.

Retail & Leisure

9.10 Witney is the primary shopping and a key leisure 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. The town centre is performing well, maintaining a strong market share with low vacancy rates. Major 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. The availability of free car parking is a significant attraction over competing centres but car park capacity is already under pressure.

9.11 In accordance with the overall strategy Witney will be a focus for new retail and leisure provision. Our retail assessment has identified capacity for additional shopping provision in the medium and longer term and recommends a strategy of phased development to reinforce the role of the town centre in the context of increasing competition elsewhere, such as Oxford. In accordance with national policy and Core Policy 16, new town centre development in Witney will follow the 'town centre first approach'.

9.12 A strong and diverse town centre will be maintained with a good mix of independent and national multiple retailers. Further town centre development will be accommodated through phased and organic extension of the Woolgate shopping centre and at Welch Way, opposite Marriott's Walk, and in a way which strengthens the connecting High Street as the primary pedestrian route and strong shopping core reinforcing the town centre as a whole. A primary shopping frontage, where the loss of shops will be resisted, is defined linking Marriott's Walk and Woolgate. Elsewhere, such as at the Market Square and Corn Street, there are opportunities to continue to promote these areas for shopping, leisure and cultural uses, including the Corn Exchange, hotels, restaurants, performing arts, and the historic Buttercross and Church Green. These areas are designated secondary shopping frontages.

9.13 We will also seek to raise the profile of Witney as a visitor destination investigating opportunities for additional accommodation and visitor related facilities such as coach drop off and waiting facilities. There is a need to enhance the market town character and ensure that the centre remains attractive and accessible to all through investment in the public realm, particularly in the Market Square and Corn Street. This will be enabled by developer contributions or other funding and may include opportunities for public art. The provision and management of free car parking is significant to the attractiveness of the town centre. Significant new development which creates additional car parking demands in the town centre will need to contribute to increasing public car parking provision alongside improvements to the bus, pedestrian and cycle infrastructure.

9.14 In the remainder of the sub-area, existing retail and leisure facilities will be safeguarded and any new facilities will be modest in scale and appropriate to the function and setting of the village in which they are proposed to be located.

Transport

9.15 Transport is a key issue for Witney. Although the town has the best road connections and bus services in the District context, traffic congestion is a significant problem particularly in the historic central area. Relieving congestion through investment in transport infrastructure is not only important in terms of public amenity and air quality it is also essential to sustainable economic growth.

9.16 Oxfordshire County Council had previously identified the Cogges Link Road on the eastern side of Witney as the most effective scheme, with planning permission having been granted in 2009, however in June 2012, the Secretary of State for Transport rejected the Compulsory Purchase Order needed for the scheme to go ahead, meaning it is now unlikely to happen. In light of this decision, the Council has been working closely with Oxfordshire County Council to consider the most appropriate alternative options for the town. The transport modelling work that has been undertaken suggests that several strategic highway improvements are needed to support the proposed level and location of growth identified at Witney through the draft Local Plan. The improvements include:

  • Shore's Green Slip Roads (SGSR) - the provision of west facing slip roads at the Shore's Green junction onto the A40
  • Down's Road Junction - the provision of a new all movements, at grade junction on the A40 at Down's Road; and
  • Improvements to the Ducklington Lane/Station Lane area

9.17 It is proposed through the draft Local Plan that the Shore's Green Slip Roads scheme is delivered by the proposed Strategic Development Area (SDA) at East Witney and that the Down's Road/A40 junction is delivered by the proposed Strategic Development Area (SDA) at West Witney. The necessary improvements to the Ducklington Lane/Station Lane area are likely to be funded through a combination of sources including developer contributions, where appropriate.

9.18 These strategic measures will need to be supported by various local improvements in order to better facilitate the movement of pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles throughout the town including public transport. A number of potential improvements are identified in the draft IDP and will be developed further as additional transport work is undertaken in support of the emerging Local Plan.

9.19 To cater for potential long-term growth at Witney the route of the West End Link (WEL2) will continue to be safeguarded through the Local Plan and is identified as a safeguarded highway scheme on the Proposals Map.

9.20 The provision and management of car parking is essential to maintaining the vitality of the town, facilitating the use of more sustainable modes of transport and reducing car use for short journeys.

The Environment

9.21 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 its historic setting as well as an ecological and recreational resource. The Windrush is a Conservation Target Area and includes the Windrush in Witney Project Area (a management strategy for which was agreed by the Council in 2005) and the Lower Windrush Valley Project Area. (Figure 7.3)

9.22 Whilst representing a significant asset, the river and its tributaries create a flood risk and there have been several flood instances in the Witney area with particularly severe flooding 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.

9.23 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. In terms of the wider sub-area, a notable environmental feature is the extensive area of sand and gravel working to the south of Witney, which forms part of the Lower Windrush Valley. 9.24 As Witney has grown so the town's setting and the separate identity of nearby villages needs special protection. Development that would compromise the open character of the town will be resisted in order to prevent urban sprawl, the further intensification of existing loose-knit development and coalescence of neighbouring settlements. This is particularly important for the narrow gap between Witney and Ducklington which has long experienced development pressures and is vulnerable to change.

Infrastructure

9.25 Having accommodated major growth over the last 30 years, careful consideration must be given to the implications of further growth at Witney in terms of the impact on existing infrastructure and the need for any additional infrastructure that is needed to support growth.

9.26 In addition to the transport infrastructure requirements outlined above, further growth at Witney must be supported by a number of other improvements. These are set out in the draft IDP and include the need for a new primary school at West Witney and the need for increased primary school capacity elsewhere with contributions to be sought as appropriate including from the proposed development at East Witney. Further secondary school provision and continued investment at Abingdon and Witney College is also likely to be needed. Similarly there is an ongoing need for further investment in Witney's built sports facilities including the Leisure Centre to meet increasing demand. There is a specific need for further allotments - with a current waiting list of around 2 years. There is also a need for more affordable housing and housing for older people including 'extra care' accommodation.

Scope for Further Expansion

9.27 Witney continues to be a sustainable location for further development although there are significant issues and challenges to address including the infrastructure requirements outlined above. Because there is relatively limited capacity within the existing built up area any further significant growth of Witney must take place on land adjoining the town. Throughout the evolution of the draft Local Plan, several strategic site options have been considered through consultation and Sustainability Appraisal (SA) including land to the north, east, south and west of the town.

9.28 In light of the decision on the Cogges Link Road (CLR) and the associated transport implications for the town, a more detailed assessment of land to the west, east and north of Witney has been undertaken alongside an updated Sustainability Appraisal (SA). Land to the south of Witney has not been assessed in detail as it is considered that the CLR decision has no direct bearing on the previous reasons for rejecting this option.

9.29 The detailed site assessment is available as a separate background paper alongside the updated Sustainability Appraisal (SA). Having regard to a broad range of considerations, these demonstrate that the most suitable locations for growth are land to the west of Witney and land to the east of Witney.

9.30 Development to the west of the town is close to existing employment areas and provides the opportunity for additional provision of business land, 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 an acceptable degree of landscape impact. There will be good highway connections with the construction of the A40/Downs Road junction with access to both east and west, being a prerequisite of further significant development in this area.

9.31 Development to the east of the town will be close to the town centre, providing good opportunities for walking and cycling, has the potential to integrate well with existing residential development at Cogges and provided development is kept to below the 95m contour, is likely to have an acceptable degree of impact in landscape terms. There will be good highway connections with the construction of west facing slip roads at the Shore's Green junction onto the A40 being a prerequisite of strategic development in this area.

9.32 Development to the north of Witney, whilst reasonably close to some existing services and facilities is some way distant from the town's main employment areas. Importantly parts of the site are within the floodplain and the site is therefore sequentially less preferable to other site options that are not affected by flooding. Recent landscape evidence also suggests there are concerns in relation to the scale of development that has been proposed and there are inherent complexities surrounding the delivery of the major transport infrastructure needed to bring the site forward.

9.33 Development to the south of Witney, as stated in previous consultation documents would result in unsustainable urban sprawl, would be dependent on car travel and would create a poor level of residential amenity.

9.34 In the wider sub-area, in accordance with the overall strategy, further growth will be limited to meeting local community and business needs and will be steered towards the larger villages.

CORE POLICY 25 - Witney Sub-Area Strategy


The focus of new housing, supporting facilities and additional employment opportunities will be Witney. New development in the rest of the sub-area will be limited to meeting local community and business needs and will be steered towards the larger villages.

Proposals for development in the sub-area should be consistent with the strategy which includes:

  • delivery of around 1,900 new homes to be focused on Witney and to include affordable housing and homes for older people and newly forming households. At least one Extra Care scheme will be required.
  • a Strategic Development Area of around 1,000 dwellings on the western side of Witney (see Core Policy 27)
  • a Strategic Development Area of around 300 dwellings on the eastern side of Witney (see Core Policy 28)
  • expansion of employment opportunities in the town through the retention and modernisation of existing sites, development of remaining available employment land (10ha) and the provision of further employment land (at least 10ha) on the western edge of Witney to provide sufficient space for business expansion, relocation and inward investment
  • continuing to work with Oxfordshire County Council to deliver improvements to the highway infrastructure, with priority on delivering the A40/Downs Road junction (all traffic movements), Shore's Green junction (west facing slip roads) plus necessary, associated improvements in the Ducklington Lane/Station Lane area
  • highway schemes to reduce traffic and pollution in the historic core and to improve the general flow of traffic and access to primary transport routes
  • enhancing public transport, and pedestrian and cycle routes and infrastructure together with managing car parking to reduce car use for short journeys
  • avoiding development which will be at risk of or increase the risk of flooding and working with partners such as the Environment Agency to deliver flood mitigation measures
  • protection and enhancement of the market town character and setting of Witney, neighbouring villages and the Windrush Valley , including the particularly vulnerable gap between Witney and Ducklington
  • development on land within or where it would be visible from the Windrush in Witney Policy Area should protect and enhance the intrinsic landscape, character, ecology and cultural value of the valley
  • protection of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)
  • ensuring that new development makes appropriate and timely provision for necessary supporting infrastructure, including new education, health, green infrastructure and other community facilities
  • new development and investment in the public realm to improve the vibrancy of the town centre as a whole in accordance with Core Policy 26.
  • Protect and enhance the character of Church Green (south of Corn Street and Langdale Gate) where development for shopping/commercial use or intensification of existing shopping/commercial uses will not be allowed (Church Green Policy Area)

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.

In the Lower Windrush Valley the Council will continue to work with the Lower Windrush Valley Project and County Minerals Authority to identify appropriate opportunities for tourism and leisure development. Proposals which complement the rural character of the area will be supported and where possible deliver comprehensive long term recreational access, community or nature conservation benefits.

Figure 9.2 - Witney Strategy

Witney Strategy Map

CORE POLICY 26 - Witney Town Centre Strategy


Maintain and enhance Witney Town Centre with an accessible, attractive and diverse shopping, visitor and evening economy offer and the principal shopping and leisure destination for West Oxfordshire and surrounding area:

  • Maintain a strong and diverse shopping core with a good mix of retailers, and focused on the High Street as the main pedestrian route and connector between the Woolgate and Marriotts Walk shopping centres. A primary shopping frontage is defined between these shopping centres and along the High Street where the loss of shops will be resisted.
  • Promote the Market Square and Corn Street areas as shopping, leisure and cultural quarters, whilst avoiding excessive concentrations of uses that could impact on amenity or vitality. Secondary shopping frontages are defined in these and other areas (See Core Policy 16). The loss of town centre uses from shopping frontages will be resisted.
  • Investigate opportunities for phased, organic extension of the Woolgate shopping centre and at Welch Way to meet retailer needs, well connected to and strengthening the High Street.
  • Maintain and enhance the Market Square as an attractive public space which can be used for other purposes at other times
  • Seek to raise the profile of Witney as a visitor destination, investigating opportunities for additional accommodation and improved visitor facilities such as coach drop off/waiting areas.
  • Enhance the historic market town character and public realm by seeking to ensure investment in paved areas, street furniture, signage and shop fronts and through the provision of appropriate servicing and waste collection arrangements
  • Ensure the town centre, as a key destination, remains accessible, through the provision and management of car parking and through enhancing public transport, pedestrian and cycle routes and infrastructure. Development proposals which significantly increase car parking demand will be expected to make appropriate public car parking provision or provide equivalent financial contributions. 

Figure 9.3 - Witney Town Centre

28dd37.jpg

CORE POLICY 27 - West witney Strategic Development Area (SDA)


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.

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 mix of residential accommodation to meet identified needs, including affordable housing and homes specifically for older people. At least one Extra Care scheme will be required

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 creating a high quality business park environment suitable for high technology and 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.

d) development to 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.

e) demonstrate the use of renewable energy, sustainable design and construction methods, with a high level of energy efficiency in new buildings including the achievement of at least Code Level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes.

CORE POLICY 28 - East Witney Strategic Development Area (SDA)


Land to the east of Witney to accommodate a sustainable, integrated community that forms a positive addition to Witney, including:

a) about 300 homes with a mix of residential accommodation to meet identified needs, including affordable housing and homes specifically for older people;

b) development to be phased in accordance with the timing of provision of supporting infrastructure and facilities with the necessary improvements to the Shore's Green junction onto the A40 to be delivered prior to the completion of any housing on the site;

c) the provision of other 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, including a particular emphasis on improving the linkages across the Windrush Valley into the town centre;

d) the provision of appropriate landscape improvements to mitigate the potential impact of development, with no built development to take place above the 95m AOD contour;

e) land to be reserved for a potential park and ride scheme to allow Oxfordshire County Council the opportunity to consider the most appropriate location for a park and ride scheme serving Witney and Oxford;

f) the provision of appropriate financial contributions towards primary and secondary education capacity enhancements;

g) biodiversity enhancements including arrangements for future maintenance;

h) provision of appropriate greenspace including allotments;

i) appropriate measures to mitigate traffic noise

j) demonstrate the use of renewable energy, sustainable design and construction methods, with a high level of energy efficiency in new buildings including the achievement of at least Code Level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes.