More is more: why dense flats at Thornhill Park can help save the planet

At a recent residents’ meeting, the developers of Thornhill Park, a proposed apartment complex next door to Thornhill Park and Ride, set out their stall and heard familiar objections from local people. New residents would compete for school places. Newcomers using the Headington roundabout would mean longer queues. Green land paved over would harm our natural resources.

There is some truth in all these concerns. And yet, for the sake of our planet, we say build it.

For what kind of person moves to an apartment next to a Park and Ride site? Most likely, somebody wanting to get into the city centre to work. Somebody who is perhaps currently commuting in, adding to traffic and polluting our air each day. Somebody who will now be able to take the bus or get on their bike with the city close at hand — or even if they drive, at least go one mile not thirty.

Cutting out that commute isn’t the only way the new flats could help us be greener. One of the most energy-intensive things we do each day is heat our homes. Where detached houses and semis lose heat through every face, dense apartment blocks, in this case up to 5 storeys tall, huddle together and conserve the warmth. Combined with modern building standards including efficient heat pumps and rooftop solar panels, each person moving into one of these new homes could put a decent dent in their emissions. A dense block also means less green space turned to grey per person, compared to sprawling detached mansions that treat sparse land as if it were free.

As with every building scheme, there are things to improve: the development’s sparse car parking provisions mean residents must be stopped from using nearby neighbours’ roads as free parking, and the school places issue calls for joined-up action with the Local Education Authority. Responsive City Councillors and local residents can and should work together through the planning process to get this right.

However, some problems come whenever we seek to build anything new: views from back gardens will change; cranes and diggers will make noise; at least one new resident will probably turn out to be an astonishing bore that you just can’t avoid speaking to. If we say that reasons like these are enough to block this new development then they shall block everything, for every new home must have some neighbours.

An Oxford unable to change at all would surely wither, becoming ever more exclusive as jobs are not matched by homes for those who work them. To avoid that fate, and especially for the good of our environment, we say let us greet this project with constructive improvements rather than a blockade.

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