An academic take on model villages

January 13, 2006

Oxford and Cambridge universities are to follow in the footsteps of the great industrialists of the past by building homes for their workers.

The famous model communities of Bourneville, New Earswick, Port Sunlight and Saltaire were designed for chocolate-makers, soap-makers and mill workers by industrialists George Cadbury, Joseph Rowntree, William Lever and Titus Salt.

The new homes will be havens for university staff unable to afford soaring house prices.

The Cambridge scheme is the more ambitious of the two, with the university in the early stages of plans to build 2,500 homes in north-west Cambridge.

It has already funded a £22 million development of 206 flats for staff and postgraduates.

Some 1,500 of the homes will be for sale on the open market to local people, diluting what might otherwise have been a rather intensely academic community.

And while the old model communities were rather paternalistic - Sir Titus Salt reputedly refused to build pubs at Saltaire - the Cambridge site will include a school and what a spokesperson described as "necessary social amenities". The university's accommodation will be a mix of rent or partial equity ownership.

Oxford is planning to build 200 homes in a £40 million development at the village of Wolvercote, which borders north Oxford.

Locals appear keen. John Goddard, city councillor for Wolvercote, said: "We are confident that Oxford will build quality houses with a view to proper transport. However, a sticking point might be who lives there."

Oxford City Council has strict rules that require 50 per cent of new housing developments to be affordable to locals - unless an employer is building homes for key workers. "It is not clear whether academics are key workers," said Mr Goddard. This could be crucial. "I know of bus drivers who can't afford to live in Oxford and have to drive in from Bournemouth. It is no exaggeration to say that Oxford faces a housing crisis."

The site at Wolvercote has been owned by Oxford University Press since the 1850s and was formerly a paper mill. If the plans go ahead, the village of Wolvercote will grow by about 20 per cent.

A spokesperson for the university said: "Oxford is in the same position as many other local employers whose staff find it difficult to secure accommodation due to the high cost of the local housing market. The fact that the university has to compete for staff nationally and internationally makes matters worse."


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