FLATS destroyed in a fatal blast will become a ‘socially deprived ghetto’ under current plans to rebuild, residents fear.

Two years ago today, part of Gibbs Crescent in West Oxford was reduced to a flaming pile of rubble as fuel stored in the flat of resident Guido Schuette’s ignited.

The 48-year-old died in the Valentine’s Day explosion, which a coroner ruled was likely an accident.


Now A2Dominion has been criticised for its plan to rebuild the riverside site and concentrate a large portion of social housing there, in exchange for not providing any social housing when it redevelops an Oxford homeless shelter.

In a consultation response to the housing provider’s planning application, Oxford University professor Rhiannon Ash wrote: “I am staggered at the cavalier way in which A2D is treating their obligations to provide social and affordable housing.

“Surely government legislation about the percentage of social housing to be incorporated in new developments was not intended to allow developers to cherry-pick like this so as to create socially deprived ghettos.”

Dr Ash, who lives in nearby Mill Street, said the area is currently ‘socially diverse’ and residents in her road and Gibbs Crescent ‘are part of the same community’.

A2Dominion wants to demolish the three-storey block of 78 flats – of which several are still uninhabitable despite a lengthy clean-up - and replace it with 140 flats standing up to six storeys tall.


61 per cent would be marked as ‘affordable’, exceeding Oxford City Council’s recommendation of 50 per cent for new housing developments.

It hopes this will swing permission for none of the 30 flats it plans to build at the former Simon House shelter, in Paradise Street, to be affordable.


An objection submitted to the city council by Matthew Savage, of Barrett Street near Gibbs Crescent, said: “A2D should be forced to provide social housing across all their sites, not use this to soak up their quota whilst redeveloping other sites purely on market terms.”

Oxford Civic Society echoed similar concerns in its response, adding: “The effect is likely to be an enclave of extremely disadvantaged tenants who will be single people and couples, leavened by a few shared ownership properties and…transient tenants with no stake in the community.

“We fear it will eventually become an isolated and deprived part of inner-city Oxford.”

The society acknowledged the ‘impossible task’ of providing enough social housing but added: “This should be weighed up against providing good mixed housing schemes.”

Planners generally now prefer mixed housing schemes, after concerns that sprawling council estates only served to further isolate disadvantaged communities.


Several current Gibbs Crescent residents, however, wrote in support of A2Dominion’s plan.

Gavin Long, commenting via the council’s planning consultation, wrote: “You can get so much more housing on this site, and affordable accommodation is so needed.

“As much as I love the area and location, Gibbs Crescent has had its day – it really does need a makeover to repair reputation.

“The majority of [residents] have accepted this, and just want to move on and get on with life.”

A comment from Gibbs resident Carla Le Maitre added: “Gibbs has a real bad name before the blast and after. This is the best way to change opinions, allow the gorgeous area to bloom again and remove all stigmas.”

Her neighbour Rob Cooke agreed that ‘redevelopment is the best option’, stating in his comment that the area had become a ‘hotspot for trouble’.

Thames Valley Police welcomed the proposal but advised the applicant to make changes to deter crime and a 'spiral of decline', such as removing outside benches to deter 'loitering and congregation leading to conflicts' and removing railings that 'may present opportunities for arson'.

Many commenters raised concerns about the height of the proposed building as well as the limited access and parking, although the site is designed to be ‘car-free’.

Oxfordshire County Council's transport team has objected, raising concerns about pedestrian safety and urging the applicant to amend its travel plan.

A2Dominion’s application said the scheme will encourage better social inclusivity rather than the opposite.

It states: “[Gibbs Crescent’s] singular demographic and social make-up has been a catalyst for antisocial behaviour, gaining the scheme a troubled reputation.

“[This will] redevelop the site in a much more socially cohesive and inclusive way, to deliver a mix of housing that will promote a strong sense of community.”

Jim Smith, development manager at the housing provider, added: “We are working closely with the city council on the redevelopment. Our proposals aim to create a sustainable, mixed tenure community.”

The application is due to be decided by the end of the month.