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Port Meadow student flats plan could end up in court
The battle to save historic views of Port Meadow could be heading to court.
Final touches are being put to a legal challenge against the planning permission granted to Oxford University for four- and five-storey student blocks overlooking the Meadow.
Campaigners are ready to seek a judicial review after receiving legal advice suggesting that Oxford City Council failed to fulfil its duties under EU law.
It also suggests that a key “screening decision” by the council affecting views of the Grade I listed St Barnabas Church in Jericho appears to be unlawful.
With thousands having signed a petition calling for the university to reduce the height of the blocks in Roger Dudman Way by two storeys, the prospect of a legal battle has been boosted by Robert McCracken QC, a specialist in environmental law.
It is understood the legal challenge would focus on the council’s apparent failure to conduct an environmental impact assessment.
Toby Porter, spokesman of the Campaign to Protect Port Meadow, which says it now has 3,000 supporters, said: “We have over the past few months identified a number of very serious shortcomings with the process and are not surprised to learn that planning permission may have been granted illegally.”
Helen Marshall, director of the Oxfordshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “We are in receipt of the legal opinion from the QC. It suggests that planning officers, however unintentionally, may have acted unlawfully. Campaigners are now considering how best to present it to the council.”
Councillors last month urged the university to reduce the height of the buildings, despite having originally given it planning permission. Officers had warned that the Town Hall could be left with a hefty bill of more than £1m if permission was revoked.
The council is currently meeting with the university to discuss what could be done to lessen the impact on views, after councillors ordered a report on how the impact of the Castle Mill development, creating 312 student flats, could be reduced.
City council spokeswoman Louisa Dean said: “These points were raised and addressed in the report that was prepared for councillors at West Area Planning Committee.
“We are now in conversation with the university about the building and we will be bringing those issues back to the next meeting.”
While declining to comment on the legal challenge facing the city, Oxford University said it was continuing to explore options with council officers.