A 160-YEAR-OLD building at the heart of Bicester is set to become a restaurant leading to fears over the area's future.

Developer U and I Group PLC has submitted a proposal to convert the former St Edburg's School building in Cemetery Road, into an eaterie, with 10 homes also being built on the site.

But despite pledges to maintain the original school building, which has been empty since January, residents are worried about the impact on the site as well as the extra traffic the development would bring.

At his stage the proposal is for outline planning permission, meaning exact details have yet to be decided upon, so there are fears the modern aspects of a restaurant will clash with the older structure.

Bicester Local History Society chairman Bob Hessian said the building dates back to 1858 and is the oldest surviving school building in Bicester.

It originally cost £2,000 to build the two classrooms and a master's house.

He added: "Bicester Local History Society are keen to see the original building being retained and the more modern additions removed in this application."

St Edburg's former school building has become a local landmark with the bell tower which soars over Bicester.

Over the years it has been refurbished a number of time times including once in the 1960s, while a temporary extension was added in 1972 and a more permanent extension in 1994.

Mr Hessian said: "We would prefer to see the old building being put to community use and are disappointed that it could be turned into yet another eating establishment in Bicester.

"Our other concerns are access to the restaurant and parking facilities.

"We also hope that the proposed ten residential units to the west of the plot are designed in a way to complement the school building. The artist impression of these buildings leaves a lot to be desired."

The outline designs put forward in the application to Cherwell District Council include 10 homes to the west of the site opposite the former school building.

The plans currently show 10 parking spaces, gardens and five visitor parking spaces and the restaurant includes a garden, terrace and 12 car parking spaces.

However, there are some pleased that the building is being brought back to use.

Colin Cockshaw, of neighbouring St Edburg's Church, said: "I have mixed feelings about this scheme. I support the preservation of the old school building and converting it to a restaurant, with generous open space around it and a footpath link to Pingle Field.

"But the existing access from Church St is narrow and it seems likely the development will increase traffic using it. Also there will be more traffic movements through the day and into the evening, so existing residents will be adversely affected. I also think the 10 houses would be shoe-horned onto the back of the site with minimal private space."

U and I Group PLC has said the non-original extension block to the former school will be demolished and rest of the building retained.

It pledged the new use of the school building will provide a 'sympathetic solution' to its historic character as well as links to the town centre and Pingle Field area.

St Edburg's School moved out of the building in January, relocating to Kingsmere.

Headteacher Margaret Kunzer said: "The school is one of the very few historic buildings left in Bicester and it seems very important that Bicester's history is preserved and celebrated.

"A sense of history is incredibly important in times of change and we've certainly got a lot of change happening.

"It is good to know that the building will be used for something that lots of people can enjoy and I hope that it is given a new lease of life.

"It is disappointing though, that this building hasn't been used for the benefit of our young people."