The call comes hot on the heels of a poll run by the Oxford Times which showed that 84 per cent of respondents were in favour of the proposal to build 72 desirable but cost-effective homes in Cowley in a high-density development which will leave land free for recreational use. The site is currently boarded up.
The difficulty is that the proposed scheme falls outside of Oxford City Council’s current affordable housing policy but it is hoped that the business community will help to persuade local planning chiefs to flex their powers and pave the way for Smart Homes and equivalent, innovative developments.
Patrick McDonald, founder of social enterprise enablers, Openwell, and the driving force behind the Oxford Smart Homes concept, said: “What Oxford and other parts of the county need are immediate solutions to the housing crisis. The bottom line is that key workers, newly-qualified professionals and those in lower paid roles cannot afford to live in this area and yet local businesses are crying out for skilled and unskilled labour to support their growth. Now we have the chance to do something real to address this problem and we would like to encourage business leaders to get behind the project and show their support.”
Mr McDonald continued: “The proposed scheme will deliver an effective solution to Oxfordshire’s affordable housing crisis and a helping hand to businesses struggling to attract the workers they need to fulfil their potential. Everything is in place to make this a reality – apart from Oxford City Council’s planning decision-makers who have yet to rule on our application. We hope that business leaders will join us in lobbying Oxford’s planning chiefs and help us to explain why this scheme is so important.”
Openwell has been working with a team of professionals on a pro bono basis to try and bring the scheme to fruition. Julie Acock, a commercial property lawyer at Royds Withy King in Oxford, helped to advise on the way forward and structure the deal. She said: “The Smart Homes scheme offers a pragmatic and sensible solution to a well-known problem. There is not sufficient development in certain parts of Oxfordshire, so that there are not enough of the right kind of houses being built to meet the needs of key workers and other employees in our county; planning policies do not seem to have the flexibility to allow developers to deliver the solutions. We hope that Oxford’s planners will embrace this opportunity and find a way to allow this development to happen.”
Dr Ryan Cawood, Chief Executive of Oxford Genetics based at Oxford Science Park, said the majority of his staff rented their homes as they were unable to afford to buy property within a reasonable commuting distance of work.
Kate Allen, Managing Director at recruitment consultancy Allen Associates, said this was typical. She commented: “The jobs market in Oxfordshire is extremely competitive and many employers find it difficult to source the staff they need as more and more young people leave Oxford after they graduate. Employers also find it challenging to attract skilled and unskilled workers from outside the county, and the severe shortage of housing only exacerbates these problems.”
To find out more about the proposed Smart Homes development, visit www.oxfordsmarthousing.com
Business are urged to express their support for the Smart Homes scheme by emailing Oxford City Councillor Van Coulter, Chair of the Council’s Planning Committee, at firstname.lastname@example.org and copying email@example.com