Some frequently-raised objections and our responses:
Q. What about the damage to nature caused by building?
A. While these sites are farmed or artificially landscaped already and so of much lower natural value than wild land, that value is certainly not zero — for example, even though farmed fields are purged of plants and animals, the hedgerows still provide valuable habitats. To make building projects a net good for nature, we advocate offsetting, in which developed land is compensated by buying farmland elsewhere to return to a wild state. That offset land could extend existing local woods such as Wytham or Bagley Woods, or could form an entirely new nature reserve where local residents are eager to have one.
Q. Won’t building more homes bring transport chaos?
A. There will of course be drivers among the new residents, perhaps a lot, and that will bring some traffic increase. However the consequence will likely be less than expected, because in a busy road network people behave intelligently to avoid jams. If there’s a long queue at 8.30am on Monday, the next day some people who have the flexibility will decide to travel at 8 or at 9 instead, distributing the load more evenly. Buses also become more viable, run more frequently and therefore see higher usage as there are more people to use them. Sooner or later of course infrastructure will reach capacity such that even clever, flexible travellers can’t find a free slot, and at that point we must bite the bullet and improve our traffic arteries or increase the appeal and quality of public options, but this smoothing effect means we can build now without serious or even noticeable consequences for existing residents.
Redeveloping existing housing into higher-density apartments can even reduce traffic, because more of the city’s population lives in a walkable or cycleable distance of work, shops, schools and other destinations they might have otherwise visited by car.
Q. Won’t new houses be bought up by London commuters?
A. Some of the homes – particularly those near Oxford Parkway – will clearly appeal to commuters, and short of draconian and intrusive restrictions on individuals’ private affairs is likely a cost we will have to bear. However, note that even in commuter households, there will often be one or more people in the household who don’t commute, and that even commuters are likely to stay in Oxford and contribute to its society at the weekends, using local shops and so forth. We should also note that such a person wishing to live in Oxford and commute to London would likely still move to Oxford even without the new houses, and would instead live close to the main station in the city centre, a house which is now available for somebody else.
Q. Won’t developers build sprawling detached houses, rather than the affordable homes people need?
A. To some extent yes, although developers are under some obligation to build more affordable dwellings as well, and this problem can be addressed in the Local Plan process. However while ideally they would build high-density apartments pitched at the middle of the housing market, it is better that larger homes are built than that we engage in a protracted fight likely to end in no building at all, as at least larger houses will divert buyers who can afford them away from existing smaller homes.
It is also not obvious that developers would particularly favour the very high end of the market, since they may well be able to gain higher profits by using the same land to build a higher number of more modest homes.