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Source: City of Oxford

The £100.6m redevelopment of Blackbird Leys will feature around 275 new homes – including new social housing – a new community centre, new shops, and improved green and public spaces.

Oxford City Council and its development partner, Catalyst Housing, have produced the new details – known as a ‘concept masterplan’ – following months of community planning days, workshops and pop-up consultation events with Blackbird Leys residents.

The City Council’s Cabinet approved the funding for the concept masterplan at meeting last night (11/3).

The concept masterplan will be refined and evolved – following consultation with residents – over the coming months, after which the precise housing numbers and other details could change.

The project, on City Council-owned land, will take place over two sites and will see Catalyst:

  • Build around 84 new homes on land between Knights Road and the Kassam Stadium
  • Build around 55 new homes in land south of Evenlode Tower
  • Demolish the existing ‘Top Shops’ site to build around 96 new homes in a low-rise block and a small terrace of four homes
  • Demolish the existing community centre, and replace it with a new community centre and a separate mixed-use building featuring retail on the ground floor and around 48 flats above

The redevelopment will also see the simplification of Blackbird Leys Road outside the Top Shops to create a large public square in front of the new community centre, mixed-use building and church.

The Knights Road development site – which has been allocated for housing since 2013 – will continue to have pedestrian access running through it, will feature new public spaces and pocket parks, and existing Knights Road residents will continue to have access through their back gardens.

Spindleberry Nature Park will be protected from development.

Last year, the early plans anticipated building “at least 250 new homes” across the two sites – but the new concept masterplan suggests that around 275 new homes could be built.

In total, as part of the new concept plans, 287 homes could be built on the sites. However, 12 of these will be replacing flats above the Top Shops that will be demolished as part of the redevelopment.

These new homes will include around 151 for social rent (52.6%), 62 for shared ownership (21.6%) and just 74 for market sale (25.8%). This means that around 74.2% of the homes (213 of 287) will be genuinely affordable.

This is significantly above the City Council’s policy, which is for 40% of homes in development sites of more than 10 homes to be for social rent and 10% to be for shared ownership.

Social rent is set at about 50% of average market rents in an area.

The housing developments will be ‘tenure blind’, meaning the social and private housing should be indistinguishable in terms of quality.

The concept masterplan confirms that the development will, at a minimum, meet to the City Council’s latest standards on carbon emissions, which are set out in Oxford’s emerging Local Plan 2036.

The new policy requires new homes to achieve a 40% reduction in carbon emissions, when compared to the standards set out in the Government’s Building Regulations – i.e. new homes in Oxford will be a 40% improvement on national standards.

The new community centre will also aim for a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating, meaning it will be amongst the top 10% of UK non-domestic buildings for sustainability performance.

Precise details about how these standards will be met will be outlined in the next phase of the development’s planning, but Catalyst’s early proposals include options such as air source heating for all properties in place of boilers.

The City Council and Catalyst have had initial conversations with those living in the existing homes above the Top Shops, those operating businesses in the Top Shops, and users of Blackbird Leys Community Centre. They will have more detailed discussions with these individuals over the coming year.                         

The eight council tenants in the homes above the Top Shops will have the option to move to one of the new homes as a Catalyst tenant, or to remain with Oxford City Council and be rehoused off the new development.

The new shops will be built over the road from the existing Top Shops, and this part of the development will take place ahead of the Top Shops redevelopment. The aim is that shop owners will be able to seamlessly transition from their current shop to a newly-built unit.

The City Council and Catalyst are working closely with Blackbird Leys Community Centre users to find accommodation elsewhere in Blackbird Leys until the new community centre is built. Blackbird Leys also includes Jubilee 77 Community Centre in Sorrel Road and The Barn in Nightingale Avenue.

The development will be built in two phases:

  • Phase one: Construction of the Knights Road and Evenlode Tower sites, and redevelopment of the community centre site
  • Phase two: Redevelopment of the Top Shops site

This phasing is for two reasons:

  • To minimise the disruption to the community, particularly businesses operating from the Top Shops
  • The sale of the new houses in Knights Road will provide income to support the development of the community and public spaces in Blackbird Leys Road

Last year, the City Council and Catalyst provided Blackbird Leys residents with a wide range of opportunities to get involved and help shape the development project.

Letters were sent to more than 5,000 homes in Blackbird Leys, and throughout April, May and June residents took part in community planning days, workshops, engagement events and pop-up stalls across the neighbourhood.

Thoughts and ideas gathered at the engagement events have fed directly into the new concept masterplan – and Blackbird Leys residents were able to see the new proposals and give their thoughts on it at two public events on Saturday (7/3) and Tuesday (10/3).

Residents will have further opportunities to have their say on the proposals later this year. At the events earlier this week residents were able to give their input on the topics they would like to cover and how they would like to take part in the future.

The City Council’s Cabinet agreed the concept masterplan, and the funding for the development, at a meeting last night (11/3). The decision will need to be ratified by the full council.

Working with Blackbird Leys residents, the concept masterplan will be developed into a detailed design – which will include the precise number of new homes proposed and more detail as to what the new homes and public spaces could look like – later this year.

The aim is to submit the planning application in early 2021. If planning permission is granted, construction of phase one could begin in 2022 and construction of phase two in 2024.

Oxford is the least affordable place to live in the country, and needs new homes. In February 2019, Lloyds Bank found that average house price in Oxford are £460,184 – 12 times the average annual earnings in the city.

The housing crisis has caused a recruitment crisis, with key employers in Oxford – including hospitals, schools and universities – struggling to fill vacancies.

There are currently 2,645 families on the waiting list for new social housing in Oxford. In November 2017, 60% of the households on the register were under the age of 44, and half had dependent children.

“It’s very welcome to see this desperately needed housing get to the next stage, with more than half of the development to be social rented homes, plus additional shared ownership homes. We’ll consult extensively with the local community as development progresses, to make sure we get the best possible scheme for Blackbird Leys.”

Councillor Mike Rowley, Cabinet Member for Affordable Housing

“This Cabinet report signals the council’s commitment to pressing ahead with the building of desperately needed new homes in Blackbird Leys, along with replacement district centre shops, a modern community centre and significant improvements to the public realm.

“I’m thrilled that, through working in partnership with Catalyst Housing, we are able to put forward a scheme which will include 151 new homes for social rent and available to people on the council’s housing register, as well as 62 for shared ownership – making the development over 74% affordable, which reflects our commitment to providing new genuinely affordable housing.

“This report is about pinning down costs as best we can, and allocating the necessary funds to make it happen. There is still a lot of work to do on the design of the development and dialogue with local residents will be paramount as we work together towards the submission of a planning application.”

Councillor Linda Smith, Deputy Leader and councillor for Blackbird Leys

“We at Catalyst are delighted to have achieved this milestone in the Blackbird Leys project, and to be engaging with the community around this masterplan. Local people have put hours of their time and energy into sharing their ideas and helping to shape the plans, and the team are looking forward to working closely with them to develop the detailed plans.”

Ian McDermott, CEO of Catalyst Housing

For more information about the Blackbird Leys redevelopment project, please visit: www.oxford.gov.uk/bblproject.

MIL OSI United Kingdom