The former RAF Bicester site was acquired by Bicester Motion in 2013 in a state of severe decay, but with the intention to create the UK’s first Centre of Excellence for historic motoring enterprise named Bicester Heritage, set within the historic buildings of this time-warp location.
RAF Bicester was considered by Historic England to be the most ‘At Risk’ of all Defence Estates in the UK, with the entire aerodrome designated a Conservation Area containing eleven areas of Scheduled Ancient Monuments and nineteen Grade II Listed buildings. It is regarded as the best-preserved WW2 Bomber Station in the country, however after nearly forty years of neglect the derelict base was in dire need of attention.
Bicester Motion set about a considered strategic regeneration and planning programme, resulting in the protection and re-purposing of the national heritage asset as well as the creation of a world-leading business eco-system and cluster for the historic motoring sector, providing a viable future for this unique location. Over forty specialist businesses now operate from the fifty 1920s-30s buildings (300,000+ ft2), with a collective annual turnover of £40m+ making the Bicester Heritage business campus the focal point for the UK’s £18.8bn historic motoring industry. It has also acted as a blockbuster film backdrop, appearing as a location in The Imitation Game and Darkest Hour, among many other shoots.
Facilities include a 50,000 ft2 indoor events venue in a 1936 C Type Hangar, an automotive test track offering young driver training and an active airfield complete with historic aircraft. The entire site is regularly made accessible to the public as a nationally recognised culture, events and tourism venue. For historic vehicle owners, it is regarded as a one-stop-shop and for the industry it represents the future, with over 100 apprentices in training.
The initial planning phases of the regeneration of Bicester Heritage were implemented through a partnership approach and a Heritage Partnership Agreement, a first of its kind developed in collaboration with Cherwell District Council, Historic England and Bicester Heritage. The latter phases have been delivered through individual planning applications, but crucially in a continued collaborative approach, using the pre-application process to achieve shared positive outcomes for the heritage asset and the surrounding community.
Such is the success of the Bicester Heritage that each restoration phase has been fully let, resulting in a constant demand for new commercial space for incoming specialist businesses. With every viable historic structure restored or reactivated, Bicester Heritage required new, larger buildings to meet demand. Thus, the conception and recent delivery of The Command Works as a contemporary extension to the historic ‘Technical Site’ representing the first significant new-build construction in eighty years and a milestone in the location’s history.
The eight new buildings were delivered in eighteen months, from unanimous planning approval to practical completion and new specialist businesses are now collecting their keys. From the largest organiser of international endurance rally events to the governing body of British Motorsport, a new part of this historic location is bursting into life.