Context 166 - November 2020

14 C O N T E X T 1 6 6 : N O V E M B E R 2 0 2 0 TOM BRIDGMAN Oxford: adapt, change and grow In looking to its future beyond the pandemic, Oxford is planning not only to conserve and protect, but to create buildings and spaces full of the character of their own time. Oxford’s historic buildings are undoubtedly our prime asset. They are the basis from which the city’s identity is drawn, invoking both pride and inspiration. They provide the bedrock of our economy, attracting students, tourists and inves- tors. That is why conservation, and the enhance- ment of our historic environment, is central to how we think about and conceive of the city of Oxford. It is within this context that Oxford must also adapt, embrace change and grow, perhaps more so than any time in the past 50 years. This imperative is driven by both opportunity and necessity. An opportunity because we sit at the nexus of a global innovation system, driven by our universities, and the world-leading science and technology clusters they have attracted, but held back, in the city-limits at least, by a lack of space. A necessity because Oxford is increas- ingly an unequal city, where the difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest areas is now 15 years; where, proportionate to income, Oxford has the most expensive housing stock in the country; and where a lack of housing growth in recent decades has led to a crisis in the availability of social housing. The status quo is not an option. Our recently adopted local plan sets out an ambitious framework for this change and growth. No stone is left unturned in relation to site allocation, and the target is to deliver around 11,000 new homes by 2036, 50 per cent of which should be affordable. The plan supports significant growth in employment space, and working with our universities and hospitals to support their expansion, renewal and accommo- dation needs. We continue to work closely with our neighbouring districts to deliver sustainable urban extensions to the city, to further increase supply and access to affordable homes. To follow this agenda, we have an ambitious and expanding planning service, built around continual improvement, to tackle the perception that change and growth in Oxford’s historic con- text is too difficult. This requires early engage- ment by scheme promoters and a willingness to work in partnership. Our Oxford Design Review Panel, one of the first, has always been much more than just architecture: conservation, urban design, sustainability and placemaking are all equally important. We still face huge challenges, and alongside the delivery of more affordable homes, our local plan sets out an ambitious response to the climate emergency. While understanding that conservation does not have to be a barrier to the aims of reduc- ing energy consumption, how we work with our historic buildings to enhance their energy efficiency will continue to be a first-order issue and challenge. We must learn positive lessons from the form and function of our heritage assets when thinking about sustainable design and construction. Our solutions must be place-based, embracing the grain of our history, our urban form, our environment, and our people and communities. This approach is critical at a site-specific, as well as city level. The recent completion of student accommodation for Wadham College on Oxford’s Covered Market is the heart of the city centre (Photo: Jorge Royan, Wikimedia)