Ray Hall has been a member of WOT for a while and has a distinguished career in architecture and planning. You can read more about his career and experience on Ray’s website but in the meantime, Ray offered us his own pearls of wisdom, or rather, a Cotswold Necklace instead, and you can read more below. What matters most is that our District isn’t short of idea, but we desperately need the resources and the political will to make some of these long-term plans a reality.
Six years ago, my wife and I moved from our home of 38 years in southeast London to live in Witney, as a gateway to the Cotswolds. We were welcomed by many and now feel a precious sense of belonging in this very special place. For, which we are very grateful.
I led for 34 years a small Architecture, Planning and Interior Design practice based in southeast London. For ten years, we also had a property arm in Westminster, focused on rail related projects.
Soon after arriving in Witney, I began sitting attending Town Council meetings as a member of the public. My goal was to understand the issues being faced. It soon became apparent that population growth was a dominant concern, without the infrastructure needed to cope, quite apart from thrive. As a result, my own arrival was, in a sense, part of the problem now needing to be addressed.
It was not long before the then Mayor of Witney shared his deep concern that the special character of a town, loved by so many, could be undermined. He then said, ‘Ray, as a volunteer, can you help us?’ I was surprised, but pleased. I agreed on the basis that the ideas I tabled would be remain mine.
I then stepped back to see a much bigger picture.
For, Witney is part of the Oxford City region that, in turn, is part of a ‘golden triangle’ with Cambridge and London. Together, they are a ‘powerhouse’ of innovation in the UK. Witney is also a rurally focused market town at the gateway to another region at the heart of England, the Cotswolds. It then became clear that a new relationship was now needed between those two seemingly conflicting contexts, identities and roles. The key missing component was a strategic approach to infrastructure and especially transport. I then asked many questions and talked with many people. The outcome was a substantial Discussion Paper dated 14.03.2016 that I presented to Witney Town Council. It was entitled “A new future for Witney and The Cotswolds”. As part of a bigger and more detailed picture, there were two core proposals:
- That the very evident investment interest in housing in the region is harnessed as part of one business plan; and
- That, at its heart, there must be a future-back-to-the-present infrastructure strategy, focused on transport and utilities, including green energy generation and recycling.
The drawing above hosts three diagram maps that summarize my overall masterplan. It was tabled before the Eynsham Garden Village was proposed, but anticipated substantial new villages north of the A40.
Hanborough station would become a multi-modal transport hub, accessing a new eco-based rail line serving a region focused on Eynsham, Witney, Brize Norton and Carterton. With an opportunity to extend westward to a second transport hub near Swindon. I called it ‘A Cotswolds Necklace Line’.
New residential schemes would enable its delivery. Each would be local in character and green energy based. The rail line would be pivotal to a network of pedestrian, cycle and bus routes to minimize a dependency on cars, even when electrified. One goal was that the Lower Windrush Valley is accessible for recreational enjoyment by all ages and abilities from across the region.
This strategy would then enable all of the existing towns, villages and hamlets to consolidate, free from the pressure of future development interest. There would also be long term clarity. For, other eco-villages could be added as the rail based ‘Cotswolds Necklace Line’ extends towards Swindon. Carterton would then become pivotal in the region, potentially as an energy + air-focused, innovation based counter magnet to Oxford, accessible into a national rail network.
As a sub-regional transport hub, Carterton could also have substantial park-and-ride provision off the A40 west of Witney. Clearly, locations such as Burford and Bampton would also be beneficiaries As can be seen, my goal then is a ‘Cotswolds Circle Line’. It would embrace a region that at the heart of a nation that has a challenging, as well as an exciting, future ahead.
The direction of these proposals was formally welcomed by Witney Town Council. It has taken no further action.
A national, regional and local context is, however, now shaping that can could enable its’ themes to be explored further. As a result, through colleagues, there have been discussions with a credible rail operator, with the goal of being able to implement an eventual scheme. If it was possible, gaining a more detailed response locally and regionally could, therefore, be timely. For, it could help me discern whether and how to proceed further.