The changing face of Didcot

With Didcot growing at a rate of knots, Jack Johnson looks into the impact of the town’s expansion on neighbouring villages…

Didcot is increasing in size like no other town in South Oxfordshire and shows no sign of stopping.

But what effect will this have on villages just a stone’s throw away?

Parishioners are certainly not against the development of Didcot and make the most of the town’s train station, cinema and arts centre.

However, the villages share a common concern – losing their identity to an expanding town.

“We’re worried about the village eventually turning into a quaint suburb of Didcot,” said Harwell Parish Council chairman David Marsh.

Chairman of West Hagbourne Parish Council Michael Butler added: “We are very concerned about the possibility of being assimilated into the south of Didcot.”

“It is important to say we’re not anti-Didcot, it is not like everything will be doom and gloom,” continued Tom Bowtell, chairman of Long Wittenham Parish Council, “but the risk is we end up being engulfed.”

According to South Oxfordshire District Council, the town will be home to 30,000 residents as of next year, and it is no surprise with building work at the 3,300 home Great Western Park estate well underway.

Meanwhile, plans for 4,450 homes at neighbouring Valley Park were submitted last month – 2,000 more than originally planned.

Developers also want to build a 2,030 home estate north of Ladygrove, and several smaller clumps of housing have been approved around the town.

Valley Park, although seen as an extension of Didcot, is actually within the boundaries of Harwell and Cllr Marsh is fighting to constrain the town’s growth.

“Change is inevitable and it is how to manage it, that is the challenge,” he said, “there is some opportunity to put some constraints on it.”

The A34 slices through Harwell but acts almost as a buffer, protecting the village from overdevelopment from the east.

Cllr Marsh added: “We’re lucky to have the A34 there. We talk to other villages and they don’t have such a big metal divide.

“People have already said they will be putting their house on the market but we have no idea if that is a reaction or a reality.”

To the south of Didcot is the village of West Hagbourne, which currently has a green buffer between itself and the town.

When it is fully developed, Great Western Park will stretch down towards the village, while 154 homes are currently being built on Park Road, just to the north of West Hagbourne.

However, with a second phase of the Orchard Centre in the pipeline and new sports facilities at Great Western Park, Cllr Butler accepted that not all of Didcot’s growth was bad news for the village.

“It is a much better place to shop, there are more facilities and there will be new sports centres, all of which will come to be of use to the village,” he said.

“Generally, the growth of Didcot is not completely a bad thing.”

Another large estate of just over 2,000 homes will lie to the north of the town and could bring with it a new leisure centre.

Currently, that development lies within the parish of Long Wittenham – a village situated four miles from the centre of Didcot.

Traffic is a big concern for parishioners with motorists using it as a rat run to the Thames crossing at Clifton Hampden and towards Oxford.

Cllr Bowtell said with all the new housing in Didcot a third river crossing near Culham is imperative.

“The traffic through the village is the big talking point,” he added.

“There really isn’t anything else we can do and the only practical solution is to have another bridge.”

History of Didcot

43 – 800 – Didcot is just farm, wood and marshland. The first Iron Age settlements begin to emerge

1140 – The village of Didcot is destroyed during the civil war between Queen Matilda and King Steven

1155 – 1671 – The manor of Didcot is owned by several minor barons and families, including the Stonor’s. Didcot was held by the State from 1630 before the Stonor’s reclaimed it in 1660 upon the restoration of the monarchy

1720 – 1839 – A working class population emerges after the Stonor’s sell off land and the seven landowners divide up Didcot. The Great Western Railway is laid

1844 – Didcot becomes a branch junction to Oxford and Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s covered station is erected, leading to a demand in housing from railwaymen and their families

1868 – 1910 – Development begins with eight streets of housing making up the Northbourne estate

1914 – 1918 – The First World War brings an arrival of soldiers to the area, creating a housing crisis in what was a quiet rural Didcot

1920 – 1939 – Large estates are built while the Broadway transforms from a quiet residential road into a shopping centre. Schools and churches are also built

1945 – 1960 – Didcot faces another housing crisis after the Atomic Energy Research Establishment is opened in Harwell. More homes are built and larger estates are formed

1960 – 2000 – Didcot Power Station is built and begins operation in 1970. This leads to further growth and emergence of the Ladygrove estate in the 1990s

2000 –  The town is earmarked for further development and is named as the centre of the Science Vale

2002 Planning application for 3,300 home estate Great Western Park is submitted

2008 – South Oxfordshire District Council grants outline planning permission

2011 – Great Western Park building work starts

2013 –Plans to build a 2,030 home estate north of Ladygrove are put on show

2015 – Planning application for 4,450 homes at Valley Park, next to Great Western Park submitted to Vale of White Horse District Council