QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
THE ADMINISTRATIVE COURT
B e f o r e :
|WESTGATE PARTNERSHIP||(FIRST CLAIMANT)|
|OXFORD CITY COUNCIL||(SECOND CLAIMANT)|
|THE FIRST SECRETARY OF STATE||(DEFENDANT)|
Smith Bernal Wordwave Limited
190 Fleet Street London EC4A 2AG
Tel No: 020 7404 1400 Fax No: 020 7831 8838
(Official Shorthand Writers to the Court)
MR MICHAEL DRUCE (instructed by Oxford City Council Legal Services, Oxford, OX1 4YS) appeared on behalf of the SECOND CLAIMANT
MS S LIEVEN (instructed by The Treasury Solicitor) appeared on behalf of the DEFENDANT
Crown Copyright ©
"Mixed-use development involving demolition and redevelopment of the existing multi-storey and surface level car park, alteration, refurbishment and part redevelopment of the existing Westgate Centre and erection of up to 39,000 square metres of new and part replacement floorspace within use classes A1, A2 and A3; residential floorspace; up to 1,240 square metres of replacement office space, bus hub, cycle storage facility, underground replacement car parking; resurfacing and environmental improvements to Bonn Square; associated highway access and landscape works; and other associated developments and ancillary uses, including public toilets and baby change facilities, shop mobility, playgroup, security and operational premises and mall space."
The other two applications were for full planning permission for temporary car and coach parking facilities on nearby sites. They were, in effect, ancillary to the outline application.
" Where, in making any determination under the planning Acts, regard is to be had to the development plan, the determination shall be made in accordance with the plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise."
"Taken overall it is my view that the scheme accords with development plan policy on shopping, indeed in many respects it would positively advance its objectives."
"There is clearly a balance to be struck between the benefits and drawbacks. Provided sincere attempts were to resolve the latter, my opinion is that the scheme accords with the development plan taken as a whole."
"The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector that the Westgate proposals appear to be generally in accordance with Structure Plan policy in providing further comparison and specialist shopping in Oxford. However, he notes that the Plan identifies the country towns as preferred locations for development and that although the Local Plan stresses the role of Oxford as the principal commercial centre in Oxfordshire, it does not mention major shopping expansion of the type envisaged in this development; rather the emphasis will remain on improving quality (IR314/315). The Local Plan envisaged a much more modest development of the land south of the existing Westgate Centre and although it is noted that the City Council consider that, in this respect, the Plan is out of date, the review of the Local Plan is still at a very early stage and the consultation papers which have been produced in connection with the review differ in their estimates as to the amount of retail space that is appropriate (IR317). The Secretary of State considers therefore that very little weight can be attached to the emerging local plan."
"The Secretary of State accepts the principle of the refurbishment of the Westgate Centre and the redevelopment of at least part of the remainder of the site for the uses proposed, in particular the need to provide improved retail facilities, additional housing and the need for better transport provision. However, having weighed up all the issues, the Secretary of State has concluded that the proposals, by virtue of their scale and design, would cause harm to the historic heart of Oxford and would not preserve or enhance the character and appearance of the Central Conservation Area. He accepts that there are benefits in terms of some improvement to the appearance of the site and to Bonn Square, provision of a bus hub and removal of buses from Queen Street. He has also had regard to the fact that English Heritage does not object to the scheme and that local opposition has been fairly limited. However, he does not consider that these factors outweigh the harm to the Conservation Area. In his view there are insufficient material considerations that would indicate that he should determine the application other than in accordance with the development plan."
"The term 'town centre' is used generally to cover city, town and traditional suburban centres, which provide a broad range of facilities and services and which fulfil a function as a focus for both the community and for public transport. It excludes small parades of shops of purely local significance. The policy guidance in this PPG should be interpreted in a way that relates reasonably to the particular size of town centre concerned."
"Policy TC4 of the Structure Plan deals with PPG6 criteria and the sequential approach. Part of the site is within the primary retail frontage identified in the Local Plan. The City Edge block would be some 200m from the primary shopping frontage and so, at worst, it would be considered an edge of centre site (PPG6 Annex A). It is the only feasible site for a mixed development of significant size and certainly it is the only such available [site] now. Bearing in mind that there are no other sites available I find that the location meets the sequential test criteria of TC4 which accurately echoes PPG6. In my view, the site should be considered as being in the City centre."
"The Secretary of State notes the Inspector's view that the location of the application site meets the sequential test in PPG6 concerning the preference for retail development to be sited in town centres and that he does not share the Oxford Preservation Trust's misgivings about the possible effect of the proposals on the future economic health of the centre of Oxford. However, the Secretary of State does not agree that the site as a whole can be considered as being within the city centre (IR319). He considers that certainly the existing service level car park (proposed City Edge block) should be regarded more appropriately as being edge-of-centre. The Secretary of State has reservations not only about the economic effect of the scale of the proposals on Oxford centre and other nearby centres but also the need for such a large development and its appropriateness so close to the heart of this historic university city. He agrees with the Inspector that Oxford has many strengths and it is for this reason that he has doubts about the need to attract more people to Oxford or to contribute to its liveliness (IR320). In this context he agrees with the Inspector that the City is thriving and notes his comment that there is no urgency to implement the scheme now (IR357). Therefore, the Secretary of State does not accept the Inspector's conclusions concerning the disposition and scale of uses."
"The need and capacity identified in the Economic Assessment, in my view, justify the new development in this location."
In paragraph 352 he said:
"There is clear and largely unchallenged quantitative and qualitative evidence that Oxford's traditional centre would not be harmed."
"What the Secretary of State must do is to state his reasons in sufficient detail to enable the reader to know what conclusion he has reached on the 'principle important controversial issues'."
Mr Druce submitted that the issue of retail benefit was a principal important controversial issue upon which the Secretary of State failed to reach a conclusion.
"What should be noted, however, is that the Inspector is not obliged to decide all the issues which are raised before him. It may not be necessary for him to decide all the issues in order to decide whether planning permission should be granted. An obvious example is provided in the present case: if he had decided the question of need against the Applicants, the issues as to planning merits would no longer be relevant to his decision. No-one suggests that the statutory duty to give reasons extends to issues which in the event are not relevant in this sense to the result of the appeal. The duty established by the House of Lords in Bolton No 2, in my judgment, is to set out the major steps in the Inspector's reasoning which have led to his overall decision on the appeal, and this makes it necessary for him to state his conclusions on the principal issues which were raised for decision by him ('controversial') and which in the result it was necessary for him to decide. Moreover, he need not refer to 'every material consideration, however insignificant', but only to 'the main issues'."
"Continuing on the design and townscape scheme, the Secretary of State recognizes the attractions of an enclosed shopping mall or street (Bridge Street) from a commercial point of view and that this solution largely determines the form of development to the south of the existing Westgate Centre. However, the combined effect of the fall in ground levels and the predominantly uniform height of the overall development, would in the Secretary of State's view create a massive and overbearing development which is out of scale and sympathy with its surroundings. In this context he notes that Norfolk Place and City Edge blocks would exceed the 18.2 metre height limit advocated by Policy EN24 in the Local Plan (AR59). He is of the opinion that the proposals, particularly the City Edge block, would have a detrimental effect on vistas both from within Oxford and from outside or on the edge of Oxford. The Secretary of State agrees with the Assessor and does not consider that a 3.5 metre set back of the City Edge block at a height of 13 metres would alleviate his concerns regarding the height and visual impact of this element of the proposals (AR76). He also agrees with the Assessor that a more gradual transition in scale is required with buildings increasing in height from Thames Street to the city centre and notes that such an approach is supported by advice in 'By Design' (AR66)."
"In the context of the impact of the application proposal on the Oxford skyline when viewed from both outside the city and also from publicly accessible viewpoints, I am of the opinion that it would accord with the main thrust and/or relevant criteria of Structure Plan Policy EN9, and Local Plan Policies EN24, EN25 and EN26."
Those are plainly important conclusions in favour of this development.
"Whilst I consider street frontages in more detail later, in principle I am of the opinion that the glazed extension to the Library frontage and the re-design/re-cladding of both Commercial Core and City Wall would improve the general townscape of this part of Oxford City centre (paragraphs 41 and 42). With regard to the overall height of these two 'character areas', both remain substantially below the 18.2 metre height advocated by Local Plan Policy EN24. With the exception of a small number of three storey high residential units, the majority of Street Block also accords with this height. However, the 'gateway tower' and glazed roof to Norfolk Place would rise above 18.2 metres, as would elements of City Edge including the standing seam metal roof and staircase tours (paragraphs 43 and 45)."
"The Council will not normally grant planning permission for buildings or the extension of existing buildings within a 1,200 metre radius of Carfax which exceed 18.2m (60ft) in height or ordnance datum (height above sea level) 79.3m (260ft)(which ever is the lower) except for minor elements of no great bulk. A lesser height may be considered more appropriate for buildings which need to fit into the existing townscape. If existing buildings (at, or in excess of, these limits) are demolished and redeveloped then consideration will be given to whether rebuilding to their previous height is acceptable in terms of the contribution made to the appearance of the existing townscape and skyline."
"338. Mr Brown's main objection in this regard relates to medium distance views of the conservation area and listed buildings from street level in Oxpens Road/Thames Street [135, 142, 145][RB63-71]. In terms of the total potential effect on Oxford's setting and the variety of possible view points, this is a relatively narrow objection. It concerns the conservation area and listed buildings on the rise behind the site, including Tom Tower (TWP23 Fig 5 is an approximation to the viewpoint concerned). Any buildings on the site would be likely to have a masking effect, though clearly that effect would be greater the higher they were. In addition, these views could also be obscured by buildings on the intervening development site at Abbey Place (TWP23 shows a view across this site) [RB46]. A significant reduction in the height of the City Edge block would be required in order to retain this view. The objection should also be weighed against any benefit to be derived from a gateway or statement building on the site [335, 158].
"339. Therefore, while agreeing with this point, I believe its importance in the overall consideration of development plan conservation policy should not be overestimated."