FEARS that Bicester's former Magistrates' Court could be turned into housing have come to fruition.

Residents who live close to the building, known as Waverly House on Queens Avenue, were shocked to receive a letter through their doors about a consultation on demolishing it and building 50 flats.

The locally listed building has been empty since its closure in 2016, with Homes England taking ownership of the property.

The site was up for sale and calls had been made from residents and Cherwell District councillor for Bicester West Les Sibley for it to be converted into a multi-use venue for the community.

But planning consultants RCA Regeneration is gathering the views of local people about plans to turn it into a 'high quality, well designed' residential development on behalf of its client - which it says is not yet able to name.

Bicester Advertiser: Illustration of the flatsIllustration of the flats

Resident Alan Bickley, who lives close to the former court, previously expressed how the site would make a good space for a music or arts venue which would 'really put Bicester on the map'.

He is therefore disappointed that plans for housing have been produced.

He said: "All they seem to want to do is build housing here. I don't mind having gradual development but this is rampant development. 

"The so-called powers-that be keep insisting that we have a housing shortage and yet all I see being built are houses that I could never afford. There is going to be less and less for the Bicester residents to do in their spare time."

ALSO READ: Bicester calls for old court to be made into museum

Bicester Advertiser: Illustration of the flats

Other residents took to social media to share their thoughts, with Samantha Jane saying on Facebook: "Could have been used as a youth centre, a community place for the elderly to go and do arts/crafts, coffee mornings, support offices for families of those with elder relatives who need assistance. 

"So many better uses, but not at all surprised it’s going to be turned into yet more housing."

Others support the plans and say it's better than seeing it left empty, with Ellie Thompson saying: "I can’t see an issue with it being converted to flats myself. It’s well situated for town amenities and public transport too."

However Mr Sibley said he was 'horrified' by the news and hopes Cherwell District Council, which has been involved in pre-application discussions, will reconsider the developer's proposals.

He said: "I'm quite shocked and horrified that this has come out of the blue. I thought it would be good if the council could buy it on behalf of the people of Bicester because it would be supported by the community. It's a shame because Bicester Magistrates' is a locally listed building which means it is part of our heritage.

ALSO READ: Police front desk in Bicester to close for good

"We have enough housing already with lots planned and signed off by the council. I'd urge people to voice their concerns and the council should reconsider the opportunity that this presents as a community asset."

Mr Sibley also says that if the project is eventually approved it could create a 'domino effect' and other services such as the police station and fire station - which sit either side of Waverly House - could close and be converted as well.

He also does not think it is in keeping with the conservation area, with Grade II-listed buildings in close proximity.

Bicester Advertiser: Councillor Les SibleyCouncillor Les Sibley

The proposed three or four storey building would be made up of one and two-bedroom apartments, and is being put forward as a 'low-car development', with large areas of secure cycle storage, electric car charging points and spaces for a car club.

ALSO READ: Bicester children say 'don't close park' as garden plans still under consideration

RCA Regeneration said in a statement: “We are determined to provide a high quality, well designed residential development to address the shortfall locally. We recognise the need to use this brownfield site efficiently to reduce the pressure on the greenbelt and consider that this site is well-located for access to the services and facilities of the town and public transport routes.

"We appreciate the considerable local interest in this vacant building and welcome all responses to the consultation, which may result in design changes to the plans as we prepare to submit a planning application.”

To have your say, go to consultations.rcaregeneration.co.uk.

Cherwell District Council previously told the Oxford Mail that it had looked at possible uses for the court in the past, 'but currently has no plans to pursue'.
It does not comment on pre-application enquiries.

Keep up to date with all the latest news on our website, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

For news updates straight to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here.

Have you got a story for us? Contact our newsdesk on news@nqo.com or 01865 425 445.