Redevelopment of the former United States Air Force base at Upper Heyford became necessary when the B-111 nuclear bomber airfield became sur to requirements following the end of the Cold War. The airbase, owned by the Ministry of Defence, comprised a 3km runway and a complex of hardened aircraft shelters constructed over a ten year period. Many of the buildings and structures are now scheduled monuments, or listed.

Cooper Partnership became involved in Heyford in the late 1990s. The initial brief was to carry out a full landscape and visual assessment in order to identify the capacity of the site for housing and offices, while protecting the cultural heritage of what had by then become the most important example of a Cold War airbase in Europe.

The design development process included extensive consultation with English Heritage, the Countryside Agency (now Natural England) and the local authority. This aimed to ascertain how development could take place in a sensitive manner, at the same time having regard to rapidly evolving conservation guidelines. For example English Heritage published a new consultation document on the conservation of cold war bases during one of the planning appeals. Other consultations included public drop-in days, exhibitions, tours around the base and leaflet drops over the course of a five-year period. Consultation also took place with the Oxfordshire Trust for the preservation of site features and the potential creation of a Cold War Museum.

Cooper Partnership was commissioned to manage the design team and to coordinate the original environmental impact assessment. This included the appointment of specialist sub-consultants to advise on archaeology, arboriculture and ecology. The design process centred upon the identification of areas of least visibility, when seen from outside the site, making use of the visually dead land created by the plateau landscape. Great care was taken with the oblique view from the Grade 1 listed Rousham House and gardens, including viewpoints on the house roof and from the main sculptures and gardens. Existing hedgerows were reinforced and historic copses recreated within the design, taking care to articulate key elements of the pre-airfield historic landscape.

The initial scheme was rejected by the local authority, which it considered too large. A smaller scheme was submitted to accord with the County Council’s new housing policy and a design brief for the site, prepared by the local authority. Cooper Partnership supported the Consortium through a local plan inquiry and subsequent appeal, with the current scheme awaiting judgement by the Secretary of State. Subject to the outcome of the planning appeal, the site will generate around 1000 houses and the preservation of an important cold war landscape with interpretative features.

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