Tag Archives: North Drive Harwell

Heritage to be razed; local opposition airbrushed

The following formed part of my objection to the planned demolition of South Drive. It was received by the council on 25th February:

“There is nowhere in the county quite like South Drive: a 1936 colonial-style Air Ministry development of mellow red brick, garden bays and sash windows,retaining its original road-layout and situated on chalk downland in an area of outstanding natural beauty. South Drive houses are among the oldest surviving parts of this former airbase.

No.8 South Drive, Sir John Cockroft s former residence, should be considered historically important in relation to the development of the site. The bomber station’s first CO decreed that the station should take the name of whichever parish his house was situated in: thus it was that RAF Harwell is what the UKAEA inherited in 1946, rather than RAF Chilton.” 

I was not the only North Drive objector to raise the soviet hammerheritage value of South Drive as a reason to not destroy it.  Yet here is the planning officer’s summary of our neighbourhood objections:

“3.3 Representations from local residents
– A total of 13 representations had been received at the time of writing this report, of which 11 object and 2 consider that there is not enough information submitted. The objections made are on the grounds of the following concerns:

•Loss of landscape setting and open character of the site
•Increased traffic generation and appropriate parking
•Adverse impact on wildlife, particularly bats
•Impact of construction on routes to the site
•Loss of privacy and of existing residential amenity

So when,  in Section 6.20, Heritage Assets, we are told:
” The proposal has no heritage assets within the site or within the surrounding area. The submission has not identified any heritage asset that is identifiable in the local area that would be subject to any adverse impact from this proposal.

… it is as if no-one had any other view.


November 2012

A glossy sheet of A5 has been plopped through our letterboxes this evening. In four short paragraphs we learn that Goodman are due to make a planning application for “approximately 125” houses on a site identified only as “South Drive”. The application will be made in December, with an exhibition for we likely-objectors on Tuesday 13th November in the cricket pavilion [4PM-8PM].

Immediate thoughts:

Are we expected to breathe a collective sigh of relief that the figure “400” has been replaced by “approximately 125”? Many of us were suspicious of the 400 figure when it was reported – an extremely high density of housing to try plonking on a relatively small and mostly never-developed area in an AONB. And/or is the 125 houses just Phase 1 of something even bigger?

Perhaps they’ve rightly considered the legal problems of access from our private estate roads…

What do you think? Reply below.

Where we are: how our objection to 400 new houses has progressed, from November 2009 – May 2011

It doesn’t really feel like 18 months  since we first became aware of Goodman’s / UKAEA’s desire to build 400 houses on the fields behind North Drive. For those who haven’t been around for all of this, here’s a quick summary of what’s gone on…

In November 2009 Karon Hawthorne of North Drive was opted into the Harwell Parish Council and in her first couple of weeks was made aware of plans for new houses to be added to the VWH local development plan and core strategy. Luckily there was a meeting of the North Drive Management Company a week away. Karon emailed a few members of the residents committee to make us aware of the situation, and to ask our managing agents to put this on the agenda of the NDMC meeting coming up! Neither the Vale nor the Parish council had, at this point in time, made the residents of North Drive aware of the potential development.

With objections due by the 29th January, the plans only being exhibited in Harwell on the 7th  January and the busy Christmas period coming up, this did not leave much time for us to form our objections, or let the majority of the North Drive residents who were still in the dark, become aware of the situation…

I held a meeting with a few residents between the Christmas and New Year period to plan a method of attack for getting the word out to residents and to split up the unenviable task of reading our way through all the literature on the VWH website in relation to the Local Development Plan and the Core strategy of which the 400 houses would be an additional amendment.

We set up a residents meeting for the 10th  January, arranging an interview and photo shoot with the Oxford Mail. Luckily the weather that year paid us a favour and with copious amounts of snow in early January the Vale postponed the planned exhibition from the 7th to 28th January, and consequently the consultation period was also extended.

Over the next 6 weeks or so we (the residents) held meetings, attended the open session at the parish council, made contact with other local campaign groups and interested parties, read our way through the VWH literature, formed our formal objections, attended the exhibition (and made our views very vocally known!!), made contact with charities and societies for advice and got in touch with councillors and MPs alike (phew).

We then drafted, read, re-drafted, read, etc.  and finally submitted objections from the NDMC/NDRC as a whole. Lots of residents submitted their own objections too. All these can be viewed on the council website. [pdf file: opens in new window. Arguments for and against the proposed development on North Drive are found on pages 23-27]

And then we played the waiting game…we had been told we would hear by June 2011

However all can change with a general election and sometime around the 27th May the new coalition government announced the abolishing of the need for councils to produce ‘regional spatial strategies’ – i.e. the local development framework! Our celebration was short lived…upon contacting the VWH I was informed they were still pressing ahead with their LDF, but that due to being ‘overtaken by events’ there would be a ‘slippage’ in the councils response on the amendments to the LDF…we are still waiting to hear on these! The last LDF expires in 2012, so we hope we hear before then!

In the meantime I was contacted by Goodman’s (the AEA developers) as they would like to meet with me, Karon and David Marsh (Chair of Harwell Parish Council) to ‘share and discuss’ their plans for the Harwell site with us. In addition to this I asked Clare Howells and Emma Coghill as directors of the NDMC committee, and Ade Brown as a long term resident to attend this meeting at well. We met with them in August 2010 and again in October 2010

I will write a separate article about these meetings (and what we thought of Goodman’s and their associates!) but all in all it appeared they only wanted to meet with us in order to show the council we were on board and had agreed to their plans, to tell us how wonderful it would be to have all these extra houses here and to imply that they already had permission so there was no real point in us objecting! At our second meeting with them we presented them with a letter informing them that the overriding position of the North Drive residents was to object to the proposals and therefore we were not in a position to comment on any of their plans.

We also went to see Ed Vaizey and Reg Waite came to visit some of the residents towards the end of last year. No clear voice of support or otherwise came out of these meetings.

Since then it has all been a bit quiet…that is until last week, when an article appeared in the Didcot Herald. Our fate is finally going to be discussed on the 8th July!

So that’s a summary of the last 18 months or so! Hopefully we will get key documents and things uploaded to the site for you all to view. Things are going to hot up in the next few weeks so we will keep you posted and look forward to us all getting as geared up again as we were 18 months ago!!!

Posted by Susannah

Chair of the North Drive Residents’ Committee

UKAEA Harwell housing: a short history

Don’t Mention The War

With the country preparing for war against an expansionist-minded Germany, the estates were constructed in 1936 by builder John Laing on behalf of the Air Ministry, as part of the nascent RAF Harwell. The simple modern 2-bed terraced and 3-bed semi-detached North Drive houses were designated as married quarters for the ratings, whilst the elegantly proportioned Colonial style detached houses on tree-lined South Drive, with their garden bays and sash windows, were reserved for officers.

RAF Harwell became operational as a bomber station in 1937 and, in the early years of the war, Wellington bombers of No. 38 Group took off from here for bombing raids over Bremen, Essen and Cologne. In 1944 the base was reallocated to No. 30 Group, whose Albemarles towed the Horsa gliders that would drop the first wave of troops from 6th Airborne Division onto the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. Our houses served as some of these men’s final billets for the few days before departure on the night of June 5th, as documented in Nick Hance’s excellent book Harwell: The Enigma Revealed, which also relates eyewitness testimony from one of the many Luftwaffe bombing raids on the airfield.

With the Luftwaffe finally swatted in 1945 and, following RAF Harwell’s brief post-war period as Transport Command,  the land was transferred to the Ministry of Supply and, under their auspice, the UKAEA was formed on 1st January 1946. The RAF housing stock was inherited and, augmented by the construction of 200 prefabricated bungalows on the south and west sides of the site, followed by 12 new houses on Severn Road and an additional terrace of 4 houses on South Drive, were let to employees of the new facility. UKAEA also built estates in Wantage and Abingdon so as to avoid the creation of a new town at Harwell and ran their own distinctive fleet of blue buses, providing a subsidised commuter service from neighbouring areas.


AIROH B2 Aluminium Bungalow. Image: National Museum of Wales

The Aldfield and Chilton prefabs were Type B2 Aluminium Bungalows designed by the Aircraft Industries Research Organisation for Housing [AIROH]; itself charged with turning surplus aircraft manufacturing capacity over to address the urgent national housing shortage, as identified by the Housing Act of October 1944. The bungalows weighed nine tons each and were brought to the site by lorry in four pre-assembled sections, which were then lowered onto their concrete base by crane. A gang of German PoWs assisted with the on-site assembly.

The National Museum of Wales at St. Fagans have restored one of the few remaining AIROH B2s, relocated from Cardiff. They have a page of interior photographs here.

The last prefabs on Chilton Field were demolished in the mid 1980s and, since demolition, the land has been unused. On the western Aldfield estate, several concrete prefab bases are still extant, along with the occasional period artefact buried in the undergrowth.


Flogging the Family Silver

By the end of the 1980s, UKAEA no longer needed a housing-stock of its own to attract employees from afar so the North Drive and Severn Road houses, along with the UKAEA houses in Wantage and Abingdon, were sold to sitting tenants and a housing association. The South Drive houses were retained but tenancies were not renewed when their occupants moved on; the houses being boarded-up one by one as they fell empty. The estate roads of North Drive and their small enclosed areas of grassland were transferred to the North Drive Management Company, of which every property-owner here is a shareholder and liable to pay an annual maintenance charge for upkeep of these common areas.


The high value given to atomic research in the post-war years is reflected in the landscaped environment that was created in order to make this an attractive place to live and work. Woodland areas provide safe outdoor play opportunities for children and there is a traffic-free route to the shops on Curie Avenue. The whole site testifies to the optimism of the period and is a rare example of utopian thinking that somehow remains in harmony with its setting. Reminders of the old airbase include what looks like a sentry point where the AEA western footpath crosses the Icknield Way and many North Drive houses retain the sheds that were made from surplus Anderson Shelters.

Sir John Laing’s North Drive houses, though modest, were well-built and had an advanced specification for the 1930s, featuring cavity walls, internal coal-storage, first floor bathrooms and large windows providing plenty of natural light. A mystery feature is the first-floor connecting aperture between houses. In my house, the area between the fireplace and the inner wall in the smaller bedroom is a plasterboard partition the size of a doorway: this meets my neighbour’s first-floor landing. I can find no evidence of there ever having been connecting doors between the houses; most likely is that the houses were built with this option of internal connectivity, but that it was never used. *

Boarded-up houses on South Drive. These fine houses, still owned by UKAEA, have been left untenanted for years.

Today, in 2011, only three of the ten Colonial style houses on South Drive remain occupied. The rest, including No.8 South Drive, the former home of Harwell’s first director, Sir John Cockroft, stand boarded, empty and decaying. We would like to see these buildings restored to use; with some or all possibly being converted to flats. But, if UKAEA and their developer partner Goodman have their way, then these high-quality houses will be demolished.

Update! 29/1/12

* Thanks to a commenter here who tells me that these connections did see some use, I finally worked out that they were designed-in for flexibility: the adjoining houses could be adapted easily to  3 -bed/1 bed  pairs. This makes sense with the layout and within the context of a wartime airbase, where tenancies would have been short-term.