Sometimes something as insignificant as a crummy old garage can supply, in its fate, enlightening instruction on the way the world works.

My picture shows the structure in question, beside the Thames in East Street, Osney. An outbuilding of the long-closed Swan pub in Bridge Street, it saw use for decades as the studio of sculptor Hugo Powell, who died in 2014. He and his wife Rachel lived in the pub itself from 1969 and were, for most of that time, my neighbours-but-one.

It is hardly a charming building, true enough, but a characterful one certainly ­– and certainly, too, part of the special character of Osney Island. It might have been hoped that it could be spruced up and used again, perhaps by another artist or craftsperson. But no, it has to go, like the fine stable block and lovely stone barn that once graced Osney’s soon-to-reopen Holly Bush Inn.

In its stead, its owners hope, will come a yoga studio, architect designed in startlingly modern style very different from that of its Victorian neighbours. The consequent change of use class will open the door, it is feared, to less acceptable business activities there.

That the proposal has divided the Island is evident from the many comments that followed The Oxford Times’s story about it. The residents’ association’s email forum has also hosted a lively debate.

I can best suggest its tone with quotations from two prominently involved (I shall not name them), both posted at the weekend. The first is from a supporter; the second from someone emphatically not and with whom – let’s not beat around the bush – I entirely agree.

“It has always been my understanding,” writes a woman asserting her qualifications to comment, “that you can enhance the existing characteristics of a place by producing designs with new and contrasting characteristics, and there are many, many examples of good quality modern designs in very sensitive heritage locations . . .

“So in this case, I would say that a design which is in contrast with the existing terrace and uses ‘modern’ materials is a legitimate response to this particular situation.”

Countering this, in a message to Susanna Pressel, our local city councillor (and county one too), is another Islander, also flourishing credentials.

She writes: “The key point about new buildings in a conservation area is not that they should necessarily replicate what is there, but that they should be very sensitively sympathetic to local architectural styles/proportions/materials and so forth. And then the question is – aesthetically – how is visual sympathy achieved? Not, perhaps, via an ugly metal-fronted modernist box with windows jammed up against the outer walls.

“And much as I would like to share your confidence in our planners, the apparently arbitrary decisions that are made do not always inspire trust.”

Well said that woman! ‘Arbitrary’ is just the word. I can tell a tale to illustrate this.

We Osneyites exist under tight planning constraints owing to what’s called an Article 4 directive, which some of our local busybodies wished into being in 1994 (in order then to become bossy-bodies). This demands that planning consent must be sought (where otherwise it need not be) for changes to a property’s appearance.

I fell victim to this when I was refused permission for a Velux in a loft conversion. This was despite the building inspector’s advice that one was required as a fire escape. The refusal was upheld on appeal. We were obliged as a result to spend thousands of pounds reinstating walls and fitting fire doors.

Since then, I have watched in silent fury as others on Osney have been given consent for just such windows. There are two being fitted, as I write, at a house in South Street. I raised this with the city council planners and was told: “The rooflights on the front slope were. . . considered acceptable because there aren’t wide angle views afforded of the front roof slope.”

Oh yeah. So how does this square with the council’s current advice document stating that where a Velux is required as a fire escape “it is acceptable to provide one conservation style rooflight in the centre of the front elevation”?

At the house in question there are Velux-style windows (plural) sited on both sides of the roof.