A COUPLE of months ago, I wrote about the need to produce a proper masterplan for the garden town to ensure that Bicester people get a real chance to have their say.

Nowhere is this need more pressing than protecting the green spaces and corridors we already have and creating new ones.

One of the principles of garden towns and cities as conceived 100 years ago was the idea that green spaces (green lungs as they were called) are essential to the health and wellbeing of residents.

Even before that, the municipal parks movement recognised equally, that people in towns and cities benefited both physically and mentally from access to green spaces and the natural environment, and the wildlife within it.

Bicester has a long history of local people joining together to protect existing green spaces and generating new ones.

For example, in the 1930s, Bicester people donated money to buy land for what became the Oxford Road sports ground and set up a trust (Bicester Sports Association) to provide sporting facilities for all the residents of the town.

More recently, when the Bure Park housing development on Slade Farm was first being planned in the early 1990s, local schoolboy Kevin Peake and his friends ran a successful campaign to save as much as they could of what they called their ‘adventure playground’.

They organised a petition, which attracted almost 5000 signatures, and as a result 30 per cent of the estate was saved from the 1,200 houses originally planned.

Currently, the ‘Save Gavray Wildlife Meadows for Bicester’ group has ably defended to date the ecologically and historically sensitive Gavray Meadows.

The plan for 180 houses to be built on the site was refused because the required management plan for the restoration and improvement of the wildlife site was not included.

The developers are appealing the decision and a public inquiry is scheduled for June.

Its not that people in Bicester object to any housing at all, simply that, like Bure Park, the protection and management of the wildlife and natural environment are integral to the scheme.

Despite the allocation of garden town status these examples show that in the absence of a comprehensive plan and the active involvement of the people of Bicester, threats to green spaces continue.

It appears the remaining land at Oxford Road Sports ground is to be sold off to developers U + I to build a shopping mall.

The loss of this major green space close to the centre of the town would be a disaster in its own right, not to mention the impact a new mall would have on the struggling town centre.

If the garden town is to become a reality then the opportunity to engage with people to enhance the number of existing green spaces should be grasped. A ‘green’ strategy with cooperation between local authorities, developers and citizens, would be a welcome step.