Didcot Town Centre Redevelopment Scheme

Appraisal of Planning Application carried out on behalf of DIDCOT and DISTRICT CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

by Mark Chattoe Dip. T.P. M.R.T.P.I. Chartered Town Planning Consultant

1. Introduction

1.1 This appraisal is based on my examination of all the submitted documents and plans and an inspection of the site and its surroundings carried out on 14th June 2000. I have since spoken to the case officer Mr M.P. Brookes to clarify various points. I end the appraisal with a summary and recommendations for the Chamber of Commerce to consider in respect of any response it may wish to make to the South Oxfordshire District Council.

2. Timetable for Processing the Application

2.1 Mr Brookes says that it is "early days" in the consideration of the scheme. There are a number of matters to be discussed with the developers and they will have to make an assessment of the responses to the scheme before going to Committee. He was not able to be precise about when the scheme may be considered but he was able to say that it would definitely not be before the meeting due on 20th August 2000 but here was no guarantee that it would go to that meeting.

3. The Basic Concept of the Scheme.

3.1 Since the approval of the outline application in March 1998, the Developers, through their Architects, will have been closely involved with South Oxfordshire District Council in the evolution of the present scheme. I am not able to judge how much the scheme was influenced by the response to the public exhibition held in October 1999. With its formal submission it must be assumed that the scheme has reached the stage where both parties are satisfied with the principle & basic details of the development as now shown.

3.2 The Developer’s motivation is to achieve a profitable development. South Oxfordshire District Council has no doubt seen its duty as trying to achieve a workable and financially feasible scheme for the general benefit of Didcot and the area it serves in line with Local Plan Policies. It is always a balancing act as far as a Council is concerned in getting a scheme like this off the ground.

3.3 It is clear from the supporting information, that the promoters are aware of the Government advice set out in Planning Policy Guidance Note No. 6 that new retail development should ‘’ sustain and enhance the vitality and viability of existing centres.’’ Reference is also made in the Design Statement about the aim to create an ‘’effective extension to the town centre’’ with:

  1. The pedestrianisation of the section of Station Road to the Broadway junction, where the paving & landscaping will be extended along Broadway to link existing premises into the new scheme.
  2. The provision of shop units between Orchard Street and Broadway to provide a link between the old and the new.
  3. A new bus link from Lower Broadway will also provide a pedestrian link and enable the development of a "circular" pedestrian link through the town.
  4. Reference is made to a "gateway feature."

3.4 In concluding this section I have to say that better linkages between the new centre and the existing centre could have been provided if the integration of the existing with the new had been given a high priority. The location of the Arts Centre and the Library places a significant buffer between the established and the new retail elements. In my view a direct and continuous link of shops could have been provided to Market Place from Station Road. However, I think it is a bit late in the day for a re-think on the basic principles of the scheme which have no doubt been determined by other more compelling priorities.

4. Effects on Existing Traders

4.1 The Shopping Assessment makes a clear case for the need for a new shopping centre scheme and no one would argue about the general benefits this would give to the shopping public and the local economy. The report says the development will offer opportunities for all existing town centre traders to attract more custom although it accepts that the transition is likely to have some adverse effect on some existing traders.They consider there will be a positive impact in the longer term.

4.2 This rather optimistic outlook will depend on a number of factors. Whilst the scheme may look good on paper the phasing of its implementation is a crucial factor. The application is silent on this and I understand this is one of the matters being discussed by South Oxfordshire District Council and the Developers and likely to be the subject of Planning Legal Agreements.

4.3 As the report says, there are clearly going to be changes in shopping patterns. In my view, existing national multiples like W.H.Smiths and probably Boots are likely to relocate to Orchard Street. The existing Broadway centre is likely to become more and more peripheral with a changing and increasing role for specialist and independent retailers, service providers and A3 hot food uses.

4.4 Against this the Developers hold out the prospects of;

  1. Reduced traffic in Broadway with new bus stops and more short-term parking.
  2. Gateway features and improved paving and landscaping.
  3. Circular pedestrian routes and
  4. The pedestrianisation of the Station Road link with Broadway

5. Appraisal of Features of the Scheme

5.1 I have looked at the above provisions of the scheme in detail to see how they will work out in practise. I have also formed a view on the built environment to be provided by the scheme. The general layout, appearance, design of buildings and context of the scheme are of a high quality. However, I am not impressed by the scheme for the Sainsburys building but this can be a very subjective matte.

5.2 Reduced Traffic in Broadway

If this will allow for more bus stops and short term parking this will be benificial. Great care will be needed in the framing of the details of the traffic management scheme needed to bring this about.

5.3 Gateway Features

The problems with gateways is that they suggest a barrier or divide which can place you "in" or "out" of an area. I think that any emphasis of a "gateway" feature will only serve to contrast the existing town centre with the new. It would be preferable in my opinion for a more seemless change with more stress on the continuity of the areas to be achieved. This scheme gives an indication of the landscaping proposals but there are no specific plans dedicated to such landscaping details. This is essential and Mr Brookes agrees that this is a matter which will require further details to be submitted and that conditions would need to be imposed to require this.

5.4 Circular Pedestrian Routes

The establishment of an attractive pattern to encourage pedestrians to follow routes through the new centre and into Broadway is an important concept to aim for if there is going to be permeability between the centres. I have explored how this can be improved. More direct links cannot be achieved between Orchard Street and Lower Broadway largely because of the proposed service road and levels. There is a big weakness in the new link proposed via the bus link. It is not very pedestrian friendly as shown. The link across the service entrance should be given more priority for pedestrians, with a raised platform at footpath level. The footpath from Broadway alongside Building 1 is too narrow. It should be widened with less emphasis to the landscaping strip at this point.

5.5 The Pedestrian Link between Station Road and Broadway

This is one of the most important elements of the scheme from the Broadway retailer’s point of view. It should be designed to provide a focus of activity and information. Signs, street furniture and paving design should contribute not only to provide an entrance to the new centre but also to promote Broadway. A town centre management kiosk would be a useful feature. Specialist regard should be given to the design of this area.

6. The Future Management of the Centre

6.1 I understand that South Oxfordshire District Council will be responsible for the future maintenance of the public areas of the scheme. I feel that there should be an enhanced role for town centre management in the interests of existing/future traders and customers.

7. Summary

7.1 The scheme is going to present a challenge and impose change on existing traders as the new centre is relatively self contained with civic buildings providing a buffer between existing and new retailing areas.

7.2 The application will not be considered before 20th August 2000 and it may well be a longer period before it is finally determined.

7.3 In general terms the scheme will enhance Didcot as a shopping centre and provide an attractive environment.

7.4 There are a number of detailed elements of the scheme, which need further attention, which the Chamber of Commerce should attempt to influence.

7.5 The pedestrian link from Broadway along the new bus link should be improved.

7.6 The scheme does not provide sufficient details of the hard and soft landscaping which are an essential element of the town centre proposals.

7.7 Consultations on the future traffic management scheme for Broadway are needed.

7.8 More information on the Phasing of the development and the future Management of the town centre is needed.

8. RECOMMENDATIONS

8.1 The Chamber should press for a detailed landscaping scheme by specialist designers, which should be subject to consultations.

8.2 Representations should be made about the need to make the link from Broadway along the new bus link more pedestrian friendly.

8.3 The provision of a circular pedestrian route should be formalised by a scheme, which defines a positive route, by a continuity of paving and route markings.

8.4 Any agreements between the Developers and the South Oxfordshire District Council about phasing and the expected timing of the provision of public amenities and the cinema should be made clear.

8.5 A traffic management scheme for Broadway should be planned at an early stage with full consultation.

8.6 The means of promoting the whole town centre should be given active consideration