West Oxfordshire Proposed Submission Local Plan 2011-2031

Witney Sub-Area

9.2.1 This is the smallest of the five-sub areas covering an area of around 7,000 hectares. However, it is the most heavily populated, containing around 33,000 people. The majority of residents (28,000) live in Witney a vibrant and historic market town famed for its association with the blanket industry. Witney is the District's largest town, acting as the main service centre and offering a broad range of housing and employment opportunities as well as key services and facilities including retailing, health care, leisure and culture.

9.2.3 The rest of the sub-area comprises a number of villages and hamlets on the fringes of Witney including Crawley, Hailey, Minster Lovell, Ducklington, South Leigh and Curbridge. Although these places offer some local facilities they naturally look to Witney for most essential services.

Fig 9.2

Housing

9.2.4 Most of the existing housing in this sub-area is located in Witney (around 12,000 dwellings) 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.

9.2.5 Property prices are relatively high (although not as high as some parts of the District) and there is considerable housing need[1] with about 550 households on the housing waiting list having identified Witney as their preferred location. The County Council has also identified Witney as its priority location for the provision of specialist housing for adults with care and support needs.

9.2.6 Whilst there are some further opportunities for housing within the built up area of the town, these are relatively limited and to accommodate future housing needs there is a need to develop on the fringes of the town on Greenfield land. This needs to be carefully balanced with the need to protect the town's setting and the separate identity of nearby villages.

1. People who cannot afford to buy or rent a suitable property at market prices [back]

Employment

9.2.7 The Witney sub-area plays an important economic role containing around 35% of the District's employment opportunities (almost 15,000 jobs). Notably, there are more job opportunities than resident workers[2] . Whilst this is to be expected given the size and role of Witney, it does suggest a need to increase housing supply in order to provide a better balance of homes and jobs.

9.2.8 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.

9.2.9 Around 10 hectares of land remains on several sites within the large employment area to the west of the town. However, much of this is earmarked for the future expansion of existing businesses meaning it is not available to facilitate inward investment from outside of the District. An additional 10 hectares is proposed as part of the committed urban extension at West Witney (see Figure 9.6) and will meet a significant proportion of future business land requirements in the town, benefitting from improved access onto the A40 via a new junction at Down's Road (see below).

2. Economic snapshot and outlook report [back]

Transport

9.2.10 Transport is a key issue for the Witney sub-area which contains a number of important and well-used routes including the A40 the A4095 and A415. Although Witney has the best road connections and bus services in the District context, traffic congestion is a significant problem due to high car use particularly for journeys outside of Witney.

9.2.11 Improvements to the Ducklington Lane junction were implemented by Oxfordshire County Council in 2014 to help improve traffic flow, but problems persist in the historic core of the town around Bridge Street where the town's single river crossing creates a 'bottleneck' that causes delays to journey times and poor air quality.

9.2.12 A further key issue is the A40. Currently access to the A40 at Witney is relatively limited and the route is also heavily congested at peak times between Eynsham and the edge of Oxford. The A40 problems are seen as a major constraint to inward investment into the District as well as a great inconvenience for those sitting in long queues every day. A recent award of £35m through the Local Growth Fund will be used to facilitate improvements but at this stage the scope and nature of those improvements has not been determined.

9.2.13 Relieving congestion through investment in transport infrastructure is not only important in terms of public amenity and air quality, it is also essential to unlocking future housing provision and sustainable economic growth.

Retail and Leisure

9.2.14 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 as well as service uses. The town centre is performing well, maintaining a strong market share with low vacancy rates.

9.2.15 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.

9.2.16 Evidence[3] suggests there is capacity for additional shopping provision in Witney 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.

3. Retail Assessment 2012 [back]

Environment and Heritage

9.2.17 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 Valley is a designated Conservation Target Area (CTA)[4] and includes the Windrush in Witney Project Area[5] which provides guidance for the management of the area in order to protect and enhance its special landscape, character, ecological, cultural and recreational value.

9.2.18 Immediately to the south of the town is the Lower Windrush Valley Project Area, an area that has been transformed by sand and gravel extraction. The project was set up in 2001 and is a jointly funded initiative that seeks to strengthen and develop the evolving landscape of the valley, protect and enhance biodiversity, improve opportunities for countryside access and raise awareness of the issues that influence the valley environment.

9.2.19 Whilst representing a significant asset, the River Windrush and its tributaries create a flood risk and there have been several flood events in the Witney area with particularly severe flooding in July 2007.

9.2.20 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.

9.2.21 In terms of the historic environment, as described above, Witney is an historic market town, famed for its association with the blanket industry with some of the former mill buildings having now been converted to new uses. A Conservation Area washes over much of the central area of the town and there are several scheduled monuments and numerous listed buildings. A number of the smaller settlements surrounding Witney also have designated Conservation Areas.

4. http://www.wildoxfordshire.org.uk/biodiversity/conservation-target-areas/ [back]
5. http://www.westoxon.gov.uk/media/329154/Windrush-in-Witney-project-Summary-leaflet.pdf [back]

Infrastructure

9.2.22 Infrastructure provision within this sub-area is naturally focused on Witney as the District's main town. Witney offers a significant range of infrastructure including key roads, public transport, schools, health care, museum, library, sports pitches, informal open space, allotments, leisure centre and so on.

9.2.23 The growth of Witney in recent years has placed these services and facilities under increasing pressure and careful consideration is needed in terms of the impact of additional housing and business growth. This is a particularly important consideration for Witney which is intended to accommodate the majority of future development in the District to 2031.

Scope for Future Expansion

9.2.24 Opportunities for major development within the built up area of the town are relatively limited. This means that development on the fringes of the town will be required to meet future needs. Land to the west of the town (north Curbridge) is already committed and will deliver 1,000 homes and 10 hectares of new business land. The remaining options considered through the Local Plan process are to the south, east, north-east and north of the town.

Key Issues - Summary

9.2.25 Drawing on the brief profile outlined above we can identify a number of key issues and challenges to be addressed in relation to the Witney sub-area. These include:

  • This is the smallest of the five sub-areas but is the most densely populated with most people living in the main town Witney;
  • Witney is a key service centre with other nearby settlements looking to it for their principal needs;
  • Witney is a vibrant and historic town and the protection of its setting and the individual identities of nearby villages is a key consideration;
  • Major housing development has taken place at Witney in the last 30 years doubling the population;
  • Property prices although not as high as some parts of the District are still high compared to the national average;
  • There is a high level of affordable housing need with Witney being the preferred location for almost half of the Council's housing waiting list;
  • Witney is a priority location for the provision of specialist housing for adults with care and support needs;
  • This sub-area plays an important economic role, particularly Witney which provides most of the District's job opportunities with a particularly strong presence of manufacturing and engineering;
  • There is currently an imbalance of homes and jobs with more job opportunities than resident workers;
  • Although there is additional business space available, much of this is already earmarked for the expansion of existing businesses rather than inward investment;
  • Witney is a key shopping and leisure destination with scope for additional shopping provision in the medium to long-term although parking capacity in the Town Centre is an issue at peak times;
  • Traffic congestion is a key issue for this area both in the centre of Witney and on the A40;
  • Flood risk is an important issue due to the presence of the River Windrush;
  • This is an environmentally sensitive area with a number of local designations and a small element of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB);
  • There are significant mineral resources (sand and gravel) within the Lower Windrush Valley and the after-use of quarry sites presents good opportunities for suitable forms of informal recreation;
  • Heritage is also an important issue in this area with a number of Conservation Areas, Scheduled Monuments and Listed Buildings;
  • There is an extensive range of infrastructure primarily at Witney but major growth in recent years has placed this under increasing pressure and future development will need to ensure that appropriate measures are put in place;
  • Relatively limited development opportunities within Witney mean that the development of Greenfield land on the edge of the town will be required to meet future needs.