Controversial Castle Mill development to open

The five-storey buildings will provide 439 graduate accommodation units, set to be put into use by Oxford University this term.

However, concerns about contamination of the former railway sidings site have prompted the Oxford City Council to reassess the construction. The Council has advised that the University will be occupying the development “at its own risk” before the discharging of planning conditions.

The environmental impact of the development has sparked opposition from local groups, including the Campaign to Protect Port Meadow, in addition to the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

The CPRE will take its case regarding its concerns over the flats to the High Court, sitting in Birmingham, on 23 October.

Members of Protect Port Meadow campaign, which has held a number of demonstrations in opposition to the development, have vowed not to protest on the Castle Mill site once students have moved into the accommodation.

In a statement, a spokesperson from Protect Port Meadow said, “We are extremely surprised that the University is moving in students before planning conditions are discharged, but our campaign has no intention of protesting directly around the students and their families.

“We will continue to campaign actively against the University until you have done far more to mitigate the views that these dreadful buildings and shabby planning process have ruined, but we will not do so on or around a site where students and their families may have occupied.”

An Oxford University spokesperson said, “The University is to house students for the next academic year in the new graduate accommodation at Castle Mill as planned. We are confident both that the site is fully environmentally suitable for residential use and, after taking independent legal advice, that we are acting reasonably and responsibly in using the accommodation for its intended purpose. The City Council has been informed as part of our continuing dialogue on the project.

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“We have addressed all contamination issues on the site in their entirety and carried out all necessary remedial work, to the satisfaction of the city and environmental authorities. City officials have confirmed that the site contamination has been properly addressed and that the ongoing monitoring arrangements offered by the University meet the Council’s requirements.

“We are conscious of the City Council’s requirement that the University should place fewer than 3,000 of its students in private rented accommodation to reduce pressure on Oxford’s housing market and the purpose-built Castle Mill accommodation enables us to achieve this goal.

“The University will continue its discussions with the City Council and local residents to refine proposals for landscaping.”

A spokesman for Oxford City Council, told Cherwell, “We have advised the University that it would be occupying the development at its own risk and that planning conditions have not been discharged.

“Our legal advice is that the discharge of planning conditions, where linked to occupation, creates an unusual circumstance where a further screening opinion is required. Whilst we understand there may be different approaches in this context, the Council was obliged to act on our legal expert’s opinion in this case.

“The Council is also taking legal advice on the options for enforcement, although we know the Courts are reluctant to support early action until all options have been explored.”

In a statement, Helen Marshall, director of CPRE Oxfordshire, said, “Serious planning and environmental issues, including concerns over contamination, remain unresolved.

“The planning permission granted to the university expressly says that the buildings should not be occupied until a number of important planning conditions are met.

“If Oxford University is at all serious about seeking to resolve the disastrous impact of these buildings, it will defer student occupation.

“However, if they should seek to go ahead, the city council should use its enforcement powers to prevent student occupation.”