The Save Port Meadow campaigners will be wading through the long awaited and lengthy environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the Castle Mill scheme with mixed feelings.

They will surely feel some sense of satisfaction that purely down to the campaigners’ own efforts, a retrospective EIA will be presented to Oxford City Council by Oxford University later today.

It has taken almost two years of effective campaigning, going to the High Court and enlisting support from Wolvercote to Westminster, but now they have an in-depth assessment of the environmental effect caused by the blocks of student accommodation built on the edge of the southern edge of Port Meadow.

Yet as they consider the options set out in the EIA to mitigate the impact of this eyesore, many will still feel outrage that this is a retrospective document.

Oxford University should have been ordered to produce an independent assessment before work was begun, not long after the scheme was completed.

With very good reason, many campaigners continue to argue that Castle Mill would not now be standing if an assessment had been carried out when it should have been.

As one of the first retrospective assessments of its kind, it will be fascinating in the coming days and weeks to observe the city council’s reaction to it.

Both Oxford University and Oxford City Council will seek to meet their legal obligations scrupulously, and with very good reason.

But with the EIA offering options rather than a clear recommendation, the city council will once again be passed this most poisonous of planning chalices.

It should not be forgotten that the Save Port Meadow campaign earlier led Oxford City Council to commission a review into how Oxford University secured planning permission in February 2012 in the first place.

This cleared the city council of malpractice, but Vincent Goodstadt’s report has led to the creation of a new panel to examine future large-scale schemes — even before planning applications are submitted.
Now the city council has the opportunity, armed with the impact asseessment, to judge many aspects of the Castle Mill development anew, and assess the planning powers it has to insist on major mitigation that councillors — and the local community — would want to see.