Given the sheer number and scale of its building schemes in the heart of the city, Oxford University and its colleges have had a reasonably untroubled ride.
How Oxford Brookes, locked for so long in a costly planning battle over its new library, must look on enviously as the old university moves forward with unprecedented construction plans.
Even Oxford University’s Castle Mill graduate accommodation scheme ruffled few feathers when it went before the city council’s west area committee. The site was on unused railway land, outline planning permission had been granted as long ago as 2000 and wasn’t the university responding to council and resident demands for more purpose-built accommodation? But only as walkers have watched the blocks slowly rise, has the scheme’s full impact on treasured views of the city dawned. Some, like Oxford Civic Society chairman Peter Thompson, are honest enough to say they took their eye off the ball.
Others, like the Green Party, say the council’s examination was nowhere near rigorous enough, with the impact on views played down and the need for an environmental impact assessment overlooked. The anger, even among some senior university members like Sir Fergus Millar, is real, with people astonished that no one paused, in recognition that Port Meadow is so special to so many. It is unlikely the university will revise its plans at this late hour. Discussion now will centre on trees and landscaping, and even the need for a Green Belt review. But the university and Town Hall would be unwise to simply shrug that everyone stuck to the planning rules. Much trust in the city’s planning process and goodwill towards the university has been squandered for the sake of an extra storey — something that can be ill-afforded with so much more in the pipeline.