PLANS for almost 300 student rooms next to a historic cemetery in Oxford have been rejected by a Government planning inspector, but developer Merton College said it was still committed to building on the site.

A public inquiry into the proposals for a three and four storey development in Manor Place ruled the public benefits of alleviating the city's housing crisis did not outweigh the harm it would cause to the city's heritage.

But the inspector pointed out neighbouring Holywell Cemetery was not a ‘designated heritage asset’ nor a listed structure, leading to calls for it to be properly protected against future development.

Oxford Preservation Trust (OPT), which originally objected along with Oxford Civic Society, St Catherine’s College and Magdalen College among others, welcomed the decision and called for greater protection for the cemetery.

OPT director, Debbie Dance, said: "One of the key reasons we fought the appeal was because we were concerned about the effect it would have on Holywell Cemetery, which is such an important heritage site.

"It's clear from what has happened it needs to be properly designated – we can't let it be at risk again.

"The decision is a great endorsement, the Inspector has recognised the importance of Oxford's heritage.

"We are sure this site can be developed into something which adds to, rather than detracts from, the area and we would be happy to talk to Merton College in the future."

Oxford City Council rejected the plans in April last year but Merton College, along with developer McLaren Property, appealed the decision – an appeal that rejected earlier this week.

The land falls within the protected Central Conservation Area, and is bordered by the Grade II-listed Bodleian Law Library to the north, Grade I-listed St Catherine’s College to the east, Magdalen College’s Grade II-listed boundary wall and Deer Park to the south, as well as the Grade I-listed St Cross Church and Grade II-listed former St Cross School buildings to the west.

The inspector, GD Jones, acknowledged the development would free up 57 homes in the city, currently occupied by students, but sided with the council on heritage grounds citing the listed buildings nearby.

But he gave little weight to Holywell Cemetery, the burial place of Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows.

Dr Harold Carter, who lives next to the proposed site and whose house formed an integral part of the inquiry, also said it was time to protect the cemetery for the future.

He said: "The Inquiry highlighted what seems to me to be one key issue, which is that at the moment Holywell Cemetery has not been made a ‘designated’ heritage asset – its structures are not ‘listed’ and it is not itself a designated Historic Park or Garden.

"This meant that relatively little weight could be given by the inspector to the impact of the development on the cemetery.

"Given its importance as a place of tranquility and wildness in the very heart of the city, it seems to me that giving it proper protection by listing it as soon as possible would be a very sensible thing to do."

The city's local plan designates the site as 'potentially suitable' for student accommodation but it is hoped the inspector's decision will provide a limit on size and scale in the future.

McLaren Property said after working on the scheme for almost seven years they remained committed to bringing the project forward

A spokesman for the company said: "We are clearly very disappointed with the appeal decision.

"We remain committed to delivering a successful student scheme at Manor Place to assist in alleviating Oxford’s housing crisis and will be discussing our options with the landowners."

Magdalen College bursar Mark Blandford-Baker said: "Naturally Magdalen is pleased that this scheme will not now be built.

"We remain committed to the notion that the land can be used for student accommodation, but with the right scale, design and layout.

"The decision clearly limits future proposals to address the height and proximity issues that we raised at the appeal."

The city council's board member for planning, Alex Hollingsworth, said: "I welcome the Inspector's decision, which upholds the council's view that this wasn't development of sufficiently high quality, as set out in our initial refusal of planning permission.

"I am pleased that he also agreed with the council that the proposal would have resulted in the overdevelopment of the site."