Town centre inquiry into £70m plans

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TOWN businesses are due to turn out in force as a public inquiry over Bicester’s town centre redevelopment gets underway on Tuesday.

Cherwell District Council (CDC) and its partners in the £70million project, Sainsbury’s Supermarkets and Stockdale Land, had hoped to avoid an inquiry after a compulsory purchase order (CPO) was issued for the proposed redevelopment area in October.

But more than a dozen businesses or individuals affected by the CPO lodged objections, and the inquiry has been brought about because the council has not been able to persuade all of them to withdraw their objections.

David Marriott, CDC’s head of regeneration projects, said: “Both Cherwell District Council and Sainsbury’s remain 100 per cent committed to the delivery of the scheme at the earliest opportunity. However, it is not possible to confirm a timescale until the results of the inquiry are known.”

Of the 14 original objectors, seven have formally withdrawn their complaints, and agreements have been reached with a further five, although two have stuck to their guns.

Work began on the first elements of the long-awaited redevelopment in August last year, and CDC had said it hoped the first phase of the scheme would be finished by the end of summer next year.

But the town is likely to face further delays of at least six months before the result of the inquiry is known, and developers find out whether they will have to modify their plans.

Ben Jackson, chairman of Bicester Chamber of Commerce, said: “The inquiry is regrettable. It adds a degree of delay and a perception of uncertainty in what is already a difficult business environment.”

He added: “We urge the townspeople and local authorities to support the town’s traders now to ensure we retain them once the project completes.”

The redevelopment of the area between Sheep Street and Manorsfield Road should provide a new supermarket, a seven-screen cinema, a range of shops and restaurants, and around 560 new car parking spaces.

The public inquiry starts at 10am in CDC’s offices in Bodicote House, Bodicote, near Banbury.