Objections lead to centre inquiry

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A PUBLIC inquiry over Bicester’s £70million town centre redevelopment began on Monday after agreements could not be reached with the final two objectors.

More than a dozen objections had been sent in after Cherwell District Council (CDC) issued a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) for the redevelopment site between Sheep Street and Manorsfield Road in October.

Of 14 original objectors, only two – Tesco and property firm HPUT – had not withdrawn their complaints by the start of the five-day inquiry.

The inquiry heard last-minute talks were being held with Tesco on Monday, although it appeared a final agreement had not been hammered out by Thursday, as the supermarket chain’s legal team was still due to speak in the afternoon.

HPUT, landlord of Boots in Sheep Street, had submitted its complaints to inquiry chairman David Nicholson in writing, and was not due to attend. Most of the objectors’ concerns centred on details such as the provision of access rights, the inquiry heard.

Christopher Lockhart-Mummery QC, representing CDC and development partners Stockdale Land and Sainsbury’s Supermarkets, told the inquiry on Monday there had been no major retail development in Bicester for many years, and that there were no units large enough to attract big retailers.

He said the benefits of the scheme – which will provide a large Sainsbury’s food store, a seven-screen cinema, units for shops and cafes, and car parking – were “substantial and manifest”.

He added: “The new cinema will attract cafe and restaurant users and provide a substantial boost to the evening economy of the town.”

CDC’s head of regeneration projects, David Marriott, told the inquiry the redevelopment plans had to be altered following the recession, with a new library now part of a second phase.

Others called to speak at the inquiry on Monday included Jonathan Thomas, of Crown Walk owners Liggins Thomas, and senior council planning officer Bob Duxbury.

Mr Duxbury said the population of Bicester was due to rise to 40,000 by 2026, and that there was a need for, “...greater choice and range of goods to reduce the need for out-of-town shopping trips.”

The inquiry was adjourned on Tuesday so the chairman could visit the development site.

On Thursday, Mr Lockhart-Mummery said any agreement reached with HPUT and Boots would have to preserve service and fire escape routes.

The inquiry also heard from Mr Marriott that Bicester Ex-Servicemen’s Club had been approached to see if they would relocate to provide access for the Tesco store.

“While they support the scheme, they didn’t want themselves to relocate. I believe they had moved to the position they’re in when Tesco was developed some time ago, and they didn’t want to move again,” said Mr Marriott.