Save Port Meadow campaigners say they have no intention of giving up just yet. Reg Little reports

Two years ago a despairing Sir Fergus Millar, formerly Oxford University professor of ancient history, contacted The Oxford Times.

It was surprising to hear the measured historian using words such as “scandalous”, “shameful” and “hideous”.

But the real shock was to find that the cause of Sir Fergus’s outraged state was his old university.

Sir Fergus had been walking on Port Meadow and viewed the university’s new student accommodation blocks then taking shape on the edge of the historic meadow.

The university had successfully secured planning permission seven months earlier from Oxford City Council with the minimum of fuss, but only as construction advanced did the full extent of this development’s impact strike him and subsequently thousands of others.

“Port Meadow has been preserved as public land for the people of Oxford for more than 1,000 years,” Sir Fergus told us. “Until recently, it has been protected as an open grazing land, which is not overlooked by large buildings, in which anyone can walk peacefully without their views being obstructed by obtrusive development.

“The atmosphere and environment of a large part of the meadow has been fundamentally damaged. Oxford University should be ashamed of itself.”

Castle Mill was to stir similar anger in others. Within days a Save Port Meadow campaign was recruiting members — including senior academics such as Jane Caplan, Emeritus Professor of Modern European History and Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church, who spoke of “the vandalism” inflicted.

Two years on the Castle Mill blocks are still standing, but, perhaps more remarkably, so is the Save Port Meadow campaign.

On Sunday to mark the second anniversary, Prof MacCulloch joined a gathering of protesters to deliver a clear message: even after completion and occupation of the blocks by graduates, even after the long legal battle, council investigations and promises of greater planning safeguards, this campaign is showing no signs of running out of steam or resolve to inflict further embarrassment on both the university and city planners.

For campaign organiser Toby Porter the reason for its continuation is as obvious as the four and five-storey blocks built on unused railway land in Roger Dudman Way.

“That the campaign remains so strong two years on just shows how angry people still are. You can’t walk on Port Meadow without feeling anger rise, every time.

“Thousands have supported the campaign, from across Oxford and the country, not just ‘leafy North Oxford’, as some try to suggest. Hundreds contributed the £37,000 raised to take the fight to the High Court.”

He rejects the suggestion that the campaign has been inspired by nimbyism.

“This is about the city’s heritage and the failure of the council and university to do the right thing, not about nimbyism, not against housing development, or even against building on this brownfield site. What they built is so inapprop-riate, over-sized, and a disgrace.”

Efforts to have the buildings reduced in height may have failed, but, in Mr Porter’s view, the campaign’s achievements have been considerable.

The Save Port Meadow campaign forced a retrospective environmental impact assessment out of the university by going to court (the EIA is expected soon) and forced a review of its planning failures on the city council.

“In terms of accountability, we think the campaign has had a huge impact.”

An independent review, ordered by the Town Hall to examine how Oxford University secured consent for the student blocks, cleared the city council of malpractice and found the council had fulfilled its statutory duties.

But the review, headed by planning expert Vincent Goodstadt, called for changes in the way major developments are dealt with by the city council and the university in the future.

His recommendations have led to the creation of a design panel of national planning and heritage experts set up to avoid another similar controversy. So what is the point of fighting on?

“Our campaign has the same two primary goals we first identified two years ago,” said Mr Porter.

“Firstly to undo the harm done to people’s experience of Port Meadow and, secondly, to seek accountability from Oxford City Council and Oxford University for what happened.

“Even after two years, we still can’t say if the first goal will be successful, at least until we hear what the environmental impact assessment says, and how the university reacts.

“The logic is still simple. These buildings have damaged a historic heritage environment. That damage can, and must, be undone. We won’t abandon that goal.”

Few could dispute the campaign’s effectiveness in keeping the campaign in the headlines.

It ensured that Castle Mill finished runner-up in the 2013 Carbuncle Cup awarded annually to the country’s worst new building, and a visit by then Planning Minister Nick Boles, who described it as the worst development he had seen in his career as a minister.

Only last week, Professors Caplan and MacCulloch had a letter published in the Financial Times admonishing the travel writer Jan Morris for writing that she had been reassured by the quality of new buildings that she had observed on a recent visit.

Throughout the saga, Oxford University has defended itself resolutely, pointing to the fact that it is faced with huge pressure to provide accommodation so as to meet city council-imposed targets, with available brownfield sites in desperately short supply.

Its environmental impact assessment will be submitted on October 30, which sets out the measures it may or may not take to lessen the impact of the Castle Mill.

It must be hoped that this proves to be the beginning of the end of a divisive chapter in relations between the university and the city.

But as they prepare to mark the second birthday of their group, campaigners are not exactly preparing for a celebratory party.