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Architect hails end of Oxford’s affordable housing policy as flats are approved


Adrian James Architects has welcomed the end of Oxford City Council’s affordable housing policy, claiming it will pave the way for more homes to be built in the area 

The local practice said the approval for the seven-flat scheme in Woodstock Road, north Oxford, would not have happened under now-scrapped rules, which demanded 15 per cent of the sale price of all developments with four or more homes should go towards council housing.

In September the local authority was forced to abandon this policy after government planning inspectors said the city’s rules were not in line with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

According to the NPPF, only housing developments of 10 or more homes should include affordable housing – or have to make a financial contribution to the public purse to build new affordable housing in the area. 

The local authority hit back at the inspectors’ ’utterly frustrating and hugely disappointing’ decision, saying the move could see the city ‘lose out on hundreds of new council houses’.

However, the architects behind the a three-storey apartment scheme say the policy, with its ’hefty contribution to affordable housing’ had effectively been blocking a raft of similar, small-scale developments.

Practice founder Adrian James said: ’[While the rule was] very commendable in principle, the fact is that no developer could make it work in reality, so there have been effectively zero small housing developments like this in the city for a decade.

[While the rule was] very commendable in principle, the fact is that no developer could make it work

’The planners have now finally accepted that this policy must go, so at last things can move. Great news. All new housing is good for the city, and fitting more small units into an area of unrelenting ineffably expensive villas is a good thing, too.’

The project will replace an existing ’typical large house’ with an ’unabashedly modern [scheme] which ’respects the surrounding 20th century houses by following the building line, using contextual materials of brick and stone and timber, and recessing the top floor’.

Work is expected to start this April and to complete in July 2021.

336.plans for aj



Architect’s view

Oxford is suffering from a housing crisis. The city is under huge pressure to build new housing but is constrained by green belt and flood plain. Opportunities to build in the city seem limited and yet north Oxford, a highly sustainable area for development, has an absurdly low density and is woefully under-populated. There are scores of streets of huge half-empty houses in capacious plots.

It’s time for a new approach. This block of flats contained within the site of one house is no higher and no wider than its neighbours, but it will be home to more than 20 people. This compares with the average occupancy of a north Oxford house of four people. So, if only every fifth house were redeveloped this way, the population of the area would double.

The denizens of north Oxford may worry that their bosky suburban idyll will be ruined, but this is not like clearing the Brazilian jungle; it is just measured infill. The character of the area will be sustained, even enriched, but the density will double.

Why hasn’t this happened already? What’s been preventing it has been the city’s policy, in opposition to central government edict, that small developments must make a hefty contribution to affordable housing. Very commendable in principle but the fact is that no developer can make it work in reality, so there have been effectively zero small housing developments like this in the city for a decade.

The planners have now finally accepted that this policy must go, so at last things can move.


Rear view

Rear view

Project data

Client Oxforge
Architect Adrian James Architects
Planning consultant Carter Jonas
Structural engineer Solid Structures
M&E consultant QODA
Quantity surveyor  PSP Consultants
Programmed Tender date  April 2020
Programmed Start on site date July 2020
Programmed Completion date July 2021
Programmed Contract duration 12 months
Gross internal floor area 735m²
Form of contract Traditional: JCT Intermediate

327 in context

Existing house in context

Existing house in context


Readers' comments (3)

  • Little - if any - acknowledgement of context, and I wonder what the neighbours think? And, as the existing dwelling appears on the face of it to be in good nick, the hell with any airy-fairy notions of sustainability.

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  • A quite lovely residential street devalued by a thoroughly disharmonious design.
    This will not raise the prestige of the architectural profession.

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  • When affordable housing policies were first introduced in London by Ken Livingstone back in the early 00s it was apparent to anyone trying to buy sites for residential development that land value would have to take the brunt of the decrease in value arising. It was also apparent to anyone who did the sums (and we did) that to require developments of anything under at least 30 homes to include a substantial percentage of 'affordable' homes would require the site vendor to either accept a big reduction in price, or the scheme would simply not proceed. They wouldn't and many schemes languished. We wrote to Livingstone and Nicky Gavron as a response to policy consultation pointing all this out. No reply.
    It seems Adrian James Architects - and many other developers and architects - are still struggling with the negative impact that demagogic affordable housing policies are having. They retard and limit the delivery of most types of housing and discourage development.
    Sure it looks good if local politicians can spout cant about forcing evil developers to cough up for affordable housing in their scheme, but those policies - like the current Mayor's target of 50% affordable homes in every scheme - will never, ever deliver the affordable housing we need. They are demagogic because they sound good, but in reality don't deliver.
    If local authorities want to see more housing 'delivered', and to remove distrust arising from undeliverable targets, they should seriously examine the efficacy of their affordable housing policies. And for a start, that baseline of 10 units needs to be raised to a more reasonable level to restore small developer/builder activity.
    It is an entirely admirable planning ideal to have mixed communities. It is entirely unacceptable, however, not to have enough housing of all types. And that situation has only got worse since the introduction of swingeing taxation through planning policies that hits small developments hardest.

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