Friends of Old Headington

People who care for the Old Headington Conservation Area in Oxford

Letters about Ruskin Fields in Oxford Times

There have been a good number of letters to the Oxford Times concerning Ruskin College’s proposals, with the only one in favour of them (so far) being from the Principal of the College.

Here are the letters published so far:

28th April

Sir – Ruskin College, never before the friend of developers, risks forfeiting all respect by supporting the plans to build on the fields off Old Headington (Report, April 21). Let us remember that the college, despite huge protests by members and lovers of Ruskin, insisted on leaving its long-held site in Walton Street, next to Worcester College.

Here it fulfilled its founders’ wishes to provide a college for working people in the heart of ‘Oxford excellence’, where they might share, as indeed they have done, some of Oxford’s privileges, the Bodleian and other libraries, lectures, seminars and so on. Now Ruskin is moving to Old Headington. At Walton Street there were no worries about cars or car parks.

Like all Oxford colleges no cars were allowed.

Already, before the students are even here, there is a brand new car park, many spaces for parking; the lovely old lawns have been ruthlessly cut back to make life ‘simple’ for the car and torment for future local traffic.

The libraries of Oxford are almost three miles away. Now the college aims at destroying the lovely gently sloping landscape that hugs the old medieval village. The harmony here of nature and the human invites all who pass by to partake of the peace and nourishment of spirit. John Ruskin lived just long enough to be honoured by the college wishing to use his name. He asked, before he died, that his blessing would be passed to the college.

Would he now? Or would he surely agree with his great contemporary, the poet Hopkins who warned against interference with such perfection: ‘Leave nature unharmed. To mend her/is to end her’.

Vi Hughes, Headington

5th May

Sir – The Friends of Old Headington applaud Vi Hughes for her very well thought out letter published in The Oxford Times last week about the threat to the conservation area and the impact of the proposed buildings on the fields within the ownership of Ruskin College.

The increase in traffic generated by such a development would not only affect Old Headington but also Marston and Northway, as even more drivers would use the route from Marston and Northway through Old Headington to the London Road.

The Conservation Area Appraisal for Old Headington which is now in draft form and out for public consultation, confirms that the Ruskin fields, which have been agricultural land for many centuries, must be preserved as a green wedge of space between the built-up Barton and Northway estates, as well as a habitat for a variety of different species of wildlife.

Sarah King Chairman, Friends of Old Headington

19th May

Sir – Ruskin College’s proposal to sell three fields just to the north of Old Headington, and have them built over, would make nonsense of the city’s recognition of the village as a conservation area.

Accept this, and every other conservation area in Oxford is at risk of losing its green spaces to a greedy eye to the main chance. The city council has a clear duty to preserve conservation areas and to dismiss the college’s plans without more ado. These fields are the last remnant of meadow pasture south of the ring-road, and are in harmony with the arable land around Elsfield opposite. To build over them would destroy the superb rural views into and out of the area, and the wildlife — some of it rare — that has lived there for centuries.

Any development on Ruskin’s fields would be a grave risk to Stoke Place. It is one of the few remaining rural lanes in the county, and one of the conservation area’s prettiest and most fragile features. Today it is enjoyed by walkers, cyclists and country-lovers, but building two hundred houses beside it would ruin a centuries-old bridleway and deprive it of its essential character.

I hope that the city council will consider the case carefully and side with John Ruskin (rather than the college named after him), and preserve the landscape that has been left to us in trust.

Lyn Robertson, Headington

Sir – Recent correspondents have rightly drawn attention to Ruskin College’s proposal to make three fields at the northern edge of the Old Headington Conservation Area available for development. The natural beauty of these fields has been widely recognised since the first application to build over them was submitted in 1933.

The city council refused permission, and the property was sold to Michael Sadler. He was the first owner to safeguard the fields by a covenant restricting building, a restriction transferred via later owners to Ruskin College. The city council brought the fields into the Conservation Area in 1998, in another recognition of their special quality.

Now Ruskin proposes to build 190+ houses there. Many of your readers will be familiar with that fall of land from the Rookery down to the northern bypass: it is a delightful patch of countryside which the residents of Headington and Northway have enjoyed for very many years (for blackberrying, dog-walking, as a wonderful place for children to play). This land should be allowed to go on providing Ruskin’s students and all those who walk or cycle in the area with a beautiful prospect of small fields full of natural interest.

The city council preserved this green space for Oxford nearly 80 years ago; now that we need such spaces more than ever, we hope they will act again to safeguard Ruskin’s fields.

Veronica Hurst, (On behalf of the Ruskin Fields Group), Headington

CPRE Oxfordshire is delighted that a planning inspector has, for the second time, dismissed Oriel College’s plan for student accommodation in the Bartlemas conservation area in East Oxford (Oxford Mail, May 5).

At the hearing, the CPRE argued that the proposed development would significantly harm the openness and green character of the historic buildings, which include a small chapel dating back to the 14th century.

We are pleased that this was one of the main reasons for the inspector to reject the proposed development.

This decision sets a precedent for future developments affecting Oxford’s heritage, such as the proposed development for nearly 200 houses at Ruskin Fields, which is off Dunstan Road within the Old Headington conservation area.

We believe that this development would destroy the openness surrounding Old Headington and would significantly affect the character and setting of the conservation area.

Oxford City Council has a duty to respect and protect its heritage assets and should send out a clear message that development on the historic Ruskin Fields is not acceptable.

Dr Helena Whall Campaign manager CPRE Oxfordshire.

26th May

Sir – It is just as well that letters to the editor aren’t the editor’s responsibility to check since almost every point in the two lead letters about Ruskin Fields on May 19 was wrong.

There is no rare wildlife on Ruskin Fields; they are not held in trust but are the private freehold property of Ruskin College; there is no covenant on them (there is a small one on another part of our land); any development would be adequately buffered from Stoke Place; and there would be no traffic access into Old Headington.

Nor do local residents ‘enjoy’ our fields, which are the private property of the college, but local folk will benefit from the enhancement of the Old Headington Conservation Area through a community project we have launched to revive our walled garden and potentially from the slowing of the traffic on the bypass if road access should come by that route.

John Ruskin would not have sided with the Nimby-ism currently being displayed. He once famously organised a band of undergraduates to help build a local road and he wrote so tellingly about education for working people that not only was our college named after him but he influenced Gandhi to want to visit us in 1931.

Neither of these great men was inspired by an imagined rural idyll but by a sense of social justice that we aim to perpetuate.

Thus we are concerned to help provide desperately-needed housing for Oxford and we believe it is possible to develop part of our fields for that purpose without detriment to the surrounding area.

Prof Audrey Mullender, Principal, Ruskin College, Oxford

Sir – After reading in this paper the previous correspondence about Ruskin College’s plan to build on highly-valued green spaces, I feel strongly that Ruskin is being opportunist in attempting to link its own plans with the city council’s plan to use land zoned for the provision of much-needed housing.

To build on historic meadows within the conservation area, as Ruskin wants to do, is entirely inappropriate.

The fear must be that this opportunistic move by the college will risk derailing the council’s well-advanced project, and I hope that the council will decouple the Ruskin plans without delay.

Robert Grimley, Oxford

2nd June

Sir – The Principal of Ruskin College should re-read the works of her college’s founding father, John Ruskin (Letters, May 26).

He forcefully opposed the destruction of the countryside. ‘Suppose you had . . . a garden large enough for your children to play in . . . but that if you chose you could double your income or quadruple it, by digging a coal shaft in the middle of the lawn and turning the flower beds into heaps of coke. Would you do it? I think not. I can tell you, you would be wrong if you did, though it gave you income 60-fold instead of four-fold. Yet this is what you are doing with all England.’

Furthermore, it is impossible to claim that Ruskin Fields do not already benefit local people — unless the college has somehow miraculously trained its birds and insects not to fly over the boundaries. All local wildlife is interdependent and needs every patch of green.

We who live on the outskirts of Oxford do not have grand buildings and ancient architecture to bequeath to the next generation. Here in Sandhills, permission was given, in spite of the objections of over ninety per cent of the local residents, to build new houses and a school intruding into the Green Belt.

Now we have a shiny new school instead of the rather ramshackle old one, but our children will never hear the larks which used to sing over the fields — they have gone for ever. If Ruskin College develops its fields, especially when the massive new project planned at Barton is take into consideration, there will be a huge swathe of land lost to wildlife. The college would receive far more respect if it withdraws its plans and lets the fields stay green.

Jane Jakeman, Oxford

Sir – It would be heartwarming indeed to think that Ruskin College’s motives for hoping to build 200 houses by the northern bypass is motivated by a concern for the homeless, although living by a noisy, dangerous and unhealthy road with no facilities or community is hardly a socialist idyll. However, given that Ruskin College has been ‘selling off the family silver’ for some time now, including the John Ruskin-approved central site, it is more realistic to assume the motivation is purely financial.

Katherine Hughes, Cowley

Sir – If Ruskin College have long held a desire to develop their meadows in Old Headington, they have certainly not made this plain. On the contrary, in their planning application for their new accommodation block in March 2009, they said: ‘the site bears a wider relationship with the surrounding fields and rural landscape. The adjacent fields to the north . . . are one of the most important features’.

It’s relevant that there were covenants relating to the fields as recently as one month ago according to the Land Registry. They pre-date Ruskin’s acquisition of the Rookery and its grounds, and demonstrate a clear intention to preserve the fields for posterity as green spaces.

Labelling local people as ‘nimby’ is a tactic traditionally employed by would-be developers to devalue opponents’ arguments.

However, as Simon Jenkins says in defence of ‘nimbyism’ in Friday’s Guardian ‘if we do not love and protect our own spaces, no one else will’. These fields are not just the backyard of the residents of Headington and Northway but of the whole of Oxford.

Nor are we alone in thinking the fields special. A Planning Inspector recommended them for inclusion in the Green Belt in 1994; the city council acknowledged that they had no development potential and should be kept open to preserve the setting of the northern edge of the Old Headington conservation area. Subsequently the fields were brought into the conservation area in 1998.

We do not question Oxford’s need for new housing and the West Barton project will provide this, with up to 1, 200 new homes.

Carving up a gem of a conservation area and destroying one of its vital green spaces was never a part of that original plan and should be resisted at all costs.

Dr Zoe Traill, On behalf of the Ruskin Fields Group, subcommittee of the Friends of Old Headington

Sir – Ruskin’s proposal to build on its fields within the Old Headington Conservation Area has generated passionate debate. This is understandable given the resulting destruction of ancient meadowlands and the rural nature of Stoke Place. Old Headington has been special for a very long time, with a history dating back to the early Kings of England. It is also unique within the city limits, as highlighted in the recent Old Headington Conservation Area Appraisal. We should be careful about proposals which might change the area irretrievably.

Ruskin’s plans, whether intentionally or not, will be linked with the council’s project to build 1, 000 new homes near Barton. The council faces a challenge making the best use of their land. One difficulty is how to incorporate the protected allotments in the middle of the development. One solution would be to move the allotments just across the ring road to Ruskin’s fields in the conservation area, which are clearly surplus to the college’s needs. Ruskin wishes to build 170 or more homes there.

Moving the allotments would allow the council to redesign the Barton development more effectively. In total this may create more housing than Ruskin’s plan and therefore increase the number of new affordable homes the city so desperately needs. Green space is vital to the health of a community. It may be more acceptable to lose the meadowland to cultivation rather than to dense urban development, especially if the field adjacent to Stoke Place is preserved as meadow thus maintaining the precious sense of countryside.

The Principal of Ruskin rightly highlights the college’s philosophy of helping those who have had a less fortunate start in life. They could achieve this as well as help preserve the special character of Old Headington by letting the council use the college land for allotments.

Neil Iggo, Old Headington

9th June

Sir – We have been walking our dogs through Ruskin Fields, picking blackberries in them, seeing our children play there, without objection from the college.

Indeed, the Principal is only too aware of this: when she decided to try to sell them for development a few months ago, realising that community use would make planning permission less likely, she had Keep Out signs put up, thorn hedges planted, and spiked metal barriers erected at the ways in.

Clive Hurst, Headington

Sir – Ruskin College’s Principal stated (Letters, May 26) that local residents do not “enjoy” Ruskin Fields.

I write as one of the local residents who has walked on these fields for the past 30 years. Moreover, people living in Headington and Northway had been used to walking in these fields long before I came to the neighbourhood in 1981.

Indeed people from Foxwell Drive, now in their sixties, recall playing in these fields as children.

I and my family have enjoyed strolls in these fields and have regularly walked there in August and September each year to pick the blackberries which grow close to the pond in the centre of one of the fields. No one, in 30 years has sought to prevent us or our neighbours from walking in Ruskin Fields.

The college wants to change this situation and has blocked the entrances to the fields, but the fact remains that for many many years local people have enjoyed walking in the Ruskin Fields.

Sue Shaw, Headington

June 16 2011

Sir – Anyone who trespassed with any regularity on Ruskin College’s fields would know that the metal fencing (Letters, June 9) has been there for years — it had nothing to do with me.

The college evicted travellers from its fields in 1999 and reinforced its fencing both then and for subsequent grazing. Nor does our further strengthening of our already very clear boundaries relate to planning matters.

It was put in motion as soon as recent sporadic trespassing was brought to my attention because we are a working college and I have a duty of care to our students.

I gave our near neighbour, Sue Shaw (Letters, June 9) permission to pick apples from one of our trees. I’m sorry now to learn that she has been annually taking the blackberries to accompany them in the traditional pie.

Ruskin is working collaboratively with local people to revive our historic walled garden and once again to grow produce there. Anyone who comes politely to our front door — as I would to theirs — is more than welcome to join us.

Now can we please put to rest this self-serving intervention from a mere handful of privileged folk. We should be focusing on the thousands who have nowhere to live.

Professor Audrey Mullender, Principal, Ruskin College

Sir – As more and more ill-conceived and badly-designed buildings threaten the landscape of Oxford city, I look back with nostalgia to the work of Ebenezer Howard, who believed a close bond with nature is essential to human well-being.

He invited Raymond Unwin, architect and author of town planning and practice, to develop Letchworth and so the concept of the garden city was born.

Here in Oxford, there is a want of gardens and green public spaces which visitors and those who work here might use. No elements of nature are factored in to the spaces where construction goes ahead.

Space and the harmony and presence of nature are essential to the human condition and the university colleges exemplify this in their balance between buildings, trees, gardens and meadows. Much could be learned from their example. Rather than being antediluvian, the past often holds the seeds of a better future.

Katrina Warren, Oxford


June 23 2011

Sir – Professor Mullender needs to understand that there is more than one peak that can be staked out as The Moral High Ground. Her choice (Letters, June 16) is to support “the thousands who have nowhere to live”. By contrast, “a mere handful of privileged folk” who live in Headington see virtue in the struggle to conserve a rural scene which, once despoiled, can never be recovered. And why does she use ‘privileged’ as a term of censure? We are all privileged, in one way or another.

The students at Ruskin are privileged. Professor Mullender is privileged. Barton residents, faced with the destruction of their nature park to provide for homes (Report, June 16), ask, “Why should we have this privilege taken away and destroyed?”

Adrian Williams, Headington

Sir – Professor Audrey Mullender, the Principal of Ruskin College, has every reason to say “We should be focusing on the thousands who have nowhere to live” in Oxford (Letters, June 16).

City council figures on housing needs and homelessness in Oxford are stark:

  • 1: 5, 900 households on the council’s housing waiting lists
  • 2: Over 190 households living in temporary accommodation
  • 3: Over 170 people living in hostels
  • 4: Half of homeless people are under 25
  • 5: Over 6, 000 over-crowded households
  • 6: Of 713 lettings made to social housing in 2009/10 only 155 were for homes with three or more bedrooms.

In short, Oxford is a housing disaster, most particularly for the least well-off, which is why Oxford City Council’s proposal (Report, June 16) to extend key worker homes to staff from Oxford’s two universities is a very real cause for concern.

Regrettable, too, that Tesco now has the go-ahead to open an Express store on the site of the Friar pub, New Marston (Report, June 16), a site which could and should have been used for a small but vital number of affordable dwellings.

That Ruskin feels able to sell some of its meadow land in Old Headington for the provision of low-cost housing is all of a piece with this college’s exemplary commitment to equal opportunity, educational, social, and cultural, and should be welcomed by us all.

Bruce Ross-Smith, Headington

Sir – I returned my consultation form to Oxford City Council regarding the Barton development project. Sadly, I had to make decisions with insufficient information.

I am unhappy with the poor consultation process and lack of engagement with local residents on the Northway estate who will be affected by changes to Foxwell Drive and the bypass. The four drop-in sessions have been poorly advertised.

Whilst I understand the need for some extra housing, I do not support any changes to conservation areas or areas that support our local wildlife.

I am significantly concerned about the impact to proposed road changes that look as though they could be imposed without any useful discussions with local residents.

Whilst Oxford City Council may be following legal processes for consultation, I am one of the local people whose trust they are losing as a consequence of the lack of local engagement.

Helen Carter, Headington

June 30 2011

Sir – I would like to add to the discussion regarding the proposal to develop some of the fields belonging to Ruskin College in Headington.

Obviously, Oxford is short of affordable housing, I doubt anyone would dispute this, and the development of West Barton on the opposite side of the ring road is important in this respect.

But, surely, this development means that the green spaces we have currently become more important, not less important. As the Ruskin Fields are part of the Old Headington conservation area, their place in Headington and their significance in the area as a whole has been examined and deemed sufficiently important to merit their inclusion.

Building nearly 200 houses on them does not seem to fit well with a policy of conservation. From where I stand, whether there is public access to the fields or not is not the issue (although it would be nice if there was). Nor is whether or not they are of special significance for historical or ecological reasons. What is important is that we should have breathing spaces in our cities, pauses in the otherwise endless run of housing estates, shops, businesses and other buildings.

The Ruskin Fields were included in the conservation area presumably because it was felt that to some level they should be protected as they are, and whatever they may not be, they are a green space, restful to the eye and calming to the soul in what is soon to become an increasingly built-up area.

Judith Craft, Headington

Sir – Town planners in the past have regarded Sunderland Avenue in North Oxford, where houses were built on both sides of the road separated only by service roads from the traffic on the A40, as an example of urban sprawl to be avoided, mitigated only by its avenue of trees.

Subsequently, when considering new developments next to the ring road, the council attempted to protect new homes from the noise and lights of heavy traffic by, where possible, keeping green strips with hedges and trees.

It is, therefore, a striking change of approach by council planners that they now suggest in the Barton Area Action Plan that Sunderland Avenue should be the model for the large extension of the Barton estate on the north side of the A40.

The aim is said to be to integrate the much-needed new homes into the city by creating a boulevard. Houses would front the A40 in the extension and on the edge of the Northway estate. Ruskin College also proposes building housing on the southern side of the A40 on fields which were included in the Old Headington conservation area to preserve its rural character.

The council hopes that traffic speeds will be reduced by a new surface-level, light-controlled junction on the A40, giving access to the Barton extension, and a 40mph speed limit from the Elsfield flyover to the Green Road roundabout. But even if this limit can be enforced, the A40 will remain divisive, and dangerous to cross except at planned points.

Will residents really gain from deliberate exposure to the A40?

Will homes right on the city’s ring road be any more suitable for families than those in another once bright idea — tower blocks?

Surely it would be better to continue building behind hedges and trees.

Mark Barrington-Ward, Oxford

July 7 2011

Sir – Nobody can deny that Oxford needs more affordable housing, but that doesn’t mean that every square inch is ripe for development. Building in the wrong way in the wrong place harms communities (both human and other) today and for future generations.

All cities need a workable balance between buildings and green open space; this is true for Oxford as for anywhere else, and is achieved in the centre by the way gardens, meadows, and sports grounds owned by the colleges offset the city’s brick, stone, and concrete.

Further away, the need is the same; local reaction to various current proposals reflects the view in Defra’s recent White Paper that green spaces really do matter to the well-being of communities, and that we must, all of us must, address biodiversity loss, and step up efforts to protect our natural environment.

Most of us within range of the city council’s ‘Barton West’ development surely feel the same: that, yes, the city needs more houses, and yes, this can be achieved to the benefit of all if each area is allowed to retain the green spaces that contribute so much to community health and the natural environment.

In this context tacking on additional proposals such as Ruskin College’s plan for a high-density building project on fields within the ring-road is unacceptable: besides the impact on the conservation area of Old Headington, the damage that increased traffic would do to Northway and Headington means that anybody concerned with social wellbeing must dismiss it as a development too far.

V. Hurst (On behalf of the Ruskin Fields Group), Old Headington

Sir – Mark Barrington-Ward, in commenting on the Barton Area Action Plan, is of course right to say (Letters, June 30) that it would “be better to continue building behind hedges and trees”; and health risks from living cheek-by-jowl with major roads, in particular for children, are beyond dispute.

Mr Barrington-Ward also reflects that new homes in Oxford are much-needed, and herein lies the dilemma: large post-war housing conurbations have frequently been socially bleak and smaller settlements work better as neighbourhoods, and yet Sir Michael Sadler, who retired from the Mastership of University College to the Rookery (now Ruskin Hall), Old Headington, in 1934, saw the northern bypass built at the bottom of his land in 1935, initially a relatively modest road, whose construction was part of a local work-creation programme at the height of the depression.

Sadler wrote movingly about Oxford in its green setting, probably at its very best in his northern outlook from The Rookery towards Elsfield and Beckley; and Dr Ian Scargill has been and is a powerful advocate for the essential need for the Green Belt to be protected. And yet Oxford’s housing crisis (a glib word which disguises real anguish for those who can’t find secure housing in a city of absurdly high housing costs) won’t go away and is likely to worsen.

The harsh reality is there may not be a solution to Oxford’s housing problems, whether a projectile south of Greater Leys or the current proposals for west of Barton and the possible South Oxfordshire District Council development at Bayswater Farm.

The arguments against building in the Green Belt are persuasive; the arguments for providing at least 40 per cent of affordable housing in developments in and around Oxford are persuasive. The wisdom of Solomon comes to mind.

Bruce Ross-Smith, Headington

Sir – Mark Barrington-Ward is stuck in an ancient paradigm, I fear: (Letters, June 30). Mark calls Sunderland Avenue an example of sprawl, a favoured pejorative for housing the expanding population along roads.

The idea was strong among some 1930s drivers, who hated the new housing spoiling ‘their’ country view, as they bowled along the nation’s arteries.

The idea was so persuasive that we had Green Belts, then tower blocks which were central to Corbusier’s car-centric world, as well as guidance to locate new housing in enclaves, walled-away from the arterial roads. But we now know that these enclaves are difficult to walk or cycle away from, and all but impossible to run decent bus services to. The idea has led to England having more people driving, for most of their journeys, than in European countries without this approach.

Development along main routes (not motorways) is most likely to support business and retail, public transport and for residents, a sense of being in a desirable place rather than segregated in an estate.

The idea of reducing the barrier of the A40 is extremely important for the thousands of people who will live in the proposed housing at Barton.

Mark is right to doubt the effectiveness of the current proposals to reduce speed to enable convenient crossings, which need to go further, eg two islands or more, narrowed carriageways, adjacent developments visible through the trees and human activity.

Hiding the new areas behind hedges and trees puts them out of sight, out of mind and in many cases, isolated. There is ample space and the intention to have hedges and trees in the new area, which can only ever ‘be sustainable’ if it is well connected to the city.

Graham Paul Smith, Oxford

Sir – You only need to look at the other (London) end of this road to get an impression of what the proposed ‘boulevard’ would look like . . .

Anne Edwards, Oxford

July 14 2011

Sir – The practical test for Graham Paul Smith’s advocacy (Letters, July 7) of building homes on each side of the A40 to create a Boulevard at the Barton extension is to compare Sunderland Avenue with Foxwell Drive. Sunderland Avenue is dominated by traffic noise, although it has the 40mph limit suggested for Barton. It can only be crossed safely at two points.

The homes in Foxwell Drive face greenery and a children’s playground. Although there is some traffic noise, the atmosphere is relaxed. Why should residents be robbed of this in pursuit of a planning fantasy?

The rejection of the tin-hat scheme to divert the A40 round Barton means that the existing road will remain a national traffic artery. When it was dualled, care was taken to maintain its hedges, including one in the centre which makes an attractive crash barrier. It fits well into the landscape.

The boulevard scheme will not create a socially and visually satisfying environment. Reducing the A40 to a single carriageway like Sunderland Avenue is impracticable. Even with a lower speed limit it will remain noisy and crossable only at fixed points. Two new rows of houses, separated by a dual carriageway and service roads, will appear to be not so much a street as 1930s-style ribbon development. I agree there must be new pedestrian and cycle links across the A40 and better bus services.

But the real way to show Barton is not out of mind, but an attractive, integrated city suburb is for the council and the developer to deliver the amenities for which people have asked at the same time as the new houses are built, avoiding the mistakes made at Blackbird Leys in the 1960s.

Keeping the green buffer will be best for the residents on both sides.

Mark Barrington-Ward, Oxford

Sir – Mark Barrington-Ward (Letters, June 30) could have mentioned that ‘boulevards’ already exist for 300/400 metres on the A40 at both the Headington and Banbury Road roundabouts — with houses or flats facing the dual carriageway, separated by service roads, verges etc on both sides.

Environmental conditions for residents are very poor, caused by traffic fumes and noise — in spite of trees and bushes.

The ‘boulevard ‘ concept is flawed, particularly if, as is proposed, dwellings would actually face the 40, 000 vehicles per day that currently use the dual carriageway.

To reduce the effects of fumes and noise, dwellings nearest to the A40 at new Barton West should be planned with windows to living rooms and bedrooms at right angles to the road — masonry gables resist sound much more effectively than glass!

Mike Gotch, Oxford city councillor, Wolvercote

July 21 2011

Sir – Ruskin College’s attempt to eradicate Ruskin Fields and its natural beauty would have horrified Ruskin himself, who had a great belief in preservation of buildings and conservation.

Ruskin was a supporter of Octavia Hill a member of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and whose ideas formed the basis for modern social work. Hill opposed municipal provision of housing and had concerns about the availability of open spaces for the poor.

Her campaigns against development on suburban woodlands saved Hampstead Heath and Parliament Hill Fields. She was a founder of the National Trust, which was set up to preserve places of historic interest or natural beauty for the enjoyment of the British public.

I hope that, on reflection, Ruskin will not be given cause to spin in his grave.

Dr Mike Bowen, Old Headington

Sir – Not a week passes but we read in The Oxford Times about another housing scheme, new road, incinerator, supermarket or university building which is strenuously opposed by local residents and existing businesses, who want to keep their open spaces or woods or car parks or local shops: in short, the very features of their neighbourhood which make it worth living in.

Not a week passes but a councillor or planner attempts to explain why their electors’ wishes must be subordinated to the expanding aspirations of a rich or powerful institution or developer. Yet these officials are the people we elected, to manage Oxford and Oxfordshire on our behalf. Do they take some sort of mind-altering pill along with their oath of office?

Katy Jennison, Witney

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