Public-private partnership creates housing community at Oxford City Council

Source: PSE April/May 2019

Cllr Mike Rowley, board member for housing at Oxford City Council, details how his authority is meeting the growing demand for housing in the city.

Oxford’s Barton housing development opened the doors to its first social housing tenants in February, marking both a significant milestone for the innovative public-private partnership and providing the first 11 families with new homes.

The extensive 885-home housing development is the result of a partnership between Oxford City Council and Grosvenor Britain & Ireland through the creation of a joint venture company: Barton Oxford LLP.

The partnership brings together the city council’s landholding and local knowledge with Grosvenor’s development expertise and investment capacity to provide high-quality homes for Oxford – a growing and successful city with an acute housing shortage – on a challenging site with considerable infrastructure costs.

The joint venture is working with a number of private house builders for different phases of delivery to build more and better homes faster. The first phase of house building will have 237 new homes, 95 of which will be owned by the city council through its wholly-owned housing company, and let at social rents to applicants on the city council’s register.

The development will eventually see the city council take possession of 354 social homes, which amounts to 40% of the site. But as well as homes, the scheme, in the north east of Oxford, will create a new community, including a new primary school with a community hub, two children’s play areas, a food store, and sports and leisure facilities.

Oxford City Council’s local knowledge has driven the development, which aims to integrate with the neighbouring community of Barton both physically and socially. Alongside a ‘tenure blind’ mix of social and market housing, Barton Park will include a 10-acre park, improvements to existing allotments, and two civic squares and community gardens to encourage social integration of the new and existing communities.

Funding from the new development has also enabled the redevelopment of the community centre and GP surgery in the existing Barton estate to create a new £1m health and community hub for both communities. The hub will feature a GP surgery triple the size of the original, a refurbished sports hall, and refurbished community space.

Encouraging healthy lifestyles has been built into the fabric of the new development. Alongside the community and leisure space, Barton Park will feature outdoor gym equipment running through a network of parks and open spaces, streets that are designed for walking and cycling, and homes that are designed for lifetimes with, for example, halls wide enough for buggies and wheelchairs. This extensive work to encourage healthy lifestyles led to Barton Park being chosen as one of NHS England’s Healthy New Towns.

This is significant because the existing community of Barton is amongst the 20% most deprived in England and Wales, and is one of the starkest examples of the health inequality that exists across Oxford – life expectancy in Barton is up to 12.6 years lower than in other parts of the city.

Alongside encouraging healthy lifestyles, the partnership has also paid close attention to biodiversity. The aim is to enhance the biodiversity of the area by creating a new wildlife meadow, coupled with a net gain in the number of trees, while offsite biodiversity has been enhanced through work on the nearby Sydlings Copse site of special scientific interest and Marston Hamm, where the grassland ecosystem is being restored.

Oxford City Council is rising to the challenge of meeting the acute housing need in Oxford, and, by using its local expertise, is doing so in a way that creates healthy and sustainable communities that integrate with and help improve existing neighbourhoods.

The government’s recent changes to public sector borrowing mean that local authorities can draw in more capital to bring forward new house building. But we think the innovative approach at Barton shows that local authorities should not only look to address housing shortage unilaterally, but should also use the new opportunity created by the government changes to help facilitate more partnership working with the private sector and draw in additional resources to create the homes and communities of the future.


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