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Castle Mill student flats review set to be ready by January
THE man appointed to carry out an independent review into Oxford’s most controversial planning application in decades has spoken of the task ahead.
Vincent Goodstadt has been appointed by Oxford City Council to look into how the Castle Mill student blocks gained planning permission.
Yesterday he spoke for the first time about his appointment and how he will go about investigating the issue.
The official, who has been described as having “impeccable credentials” as one of the country’s most senior planning experts, said: “The point of this exercise is to review the background context in what has happened in terms of best practice.
“It is not seeking to review the decision, but how that decision was taken. I am happy to have been appointed.”
Mr Goodstadt is expected to complete the review by the end of the year, and it is set be put to a meeting of full council in January.
When pressed by the Oxford Mail, he refused to be drawn on what potential recommendations he might make at the end of the review.
But he said he would be carrying out an exhaustive probe into the wrangle over how permission for the scheme was given.
“The first aspect of this is that I have been given access to all the background material,” he said.
“The second aspect is I want to not only rely on what people have submitted but listen and talk to people on why they have concerns.
“Some people responded to the application and others responded when they saw the buildings being built, and I want to talk to everybody who expressed a view.”
The building of the 312-room blocks by Oxford University sparked outrage last year when it emerged they were blocking off the famous “dreaming spires” view from Port Meadow.
A campaign has since been set up to convince the university to lower the height of the buildings, and a judicial review bid has been launched on the basis that the ground they are built on may be contaminated.
The city council, which approved the scheme before asking for the developers to make it smaller, has agreed to carry out the Goodstadt review in tandem.
It says it wants to find out how its planning process can be improved, in light of complaints about the level of consultation over the plans.
Mr Goodstadt is a past president of the Royal Town Planning Institute and is currently chairman of the body’s English Policy Panel and vice-chairman of the UK Planning Policy, Practice and Research Committee.
He was approached by the city council over taking on the role and was selected from a shortlist of three people.
City councillor John Goddard, the chairman of the working group which has been set up to oversee Mr Goodstadt’s review, said: “He is a planner of enormous experience and reputation, not only nationally but internationally.
“I think it would be very surprising indeed if the council decided to set up an independent review, which is fully supported by the city executive board, and having done that the council were not minded to follow this through.
“We didn’t set up this review to have it gathering dust on the shelves and I don’t think Vincent would have wanted to take the job.”
He added that one of the reasons Mr Goodstadt was chosen was that he has no links to either Oxford University or Oxford City Council.
Local resident Toby Porter, who has been leading the campaign to have the buildings lowered, said: “He seems to have impeccable credentials and we are positive about his appointment.
“The area where the city council’s procedures need to improve is perhaps a more objective and artistic appraisal of planning applications.”
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