Council turns down St Cross extension

A contest-winning extension to the St Cross West Quadrangle has been turned down by Oxford City Council.

The proposals put forward by St Cross to Oxford Council in July of this year included plans to build 53 new student rooms, a lecture theatre and a library as part of the large-scale work.

The decision, made by the Council’s West Area Planning Committee, overruled the recommendations of its own officers. One of the main objections cited for the rejection of the planning proposals was that a fin-de-siècle boundary wall that stands on the extension’s proposed site would have to have been demolished.

An Oxford City Council spokesman commented that the current extension proposal, “involving the demolition of the walls, would cause harm to the heritage significance of the structures that is not justified by any public benefits deriving from the works.”

Another problem with the plans cited by the council was that the Pusey House Chapel’s west window would have been blocked from view by the new building. Pusey House is Grade 2 listed, and so the college’s building plans were not seen as in keeping with the local context.

Sir Mark Jones, Master of St Cross College, said, “We were disappointed by the refusal of planning permission because we believe that St Cross Students would benefit from the creation of more accommodation on our central site and we know that the College needs more library work spaces and better facilities for seminars and lectures.”

Dr Joel Shapiro, Fellow of St Cross College, shared similar sentiments, saying, “I am obviously disappointed by the decision.”  

The Council’s objection has also drawn criticism from some St Cross students. Lei Xie, MPhil in Economics, said, “I fail to see how the boundary wall possesses sufficient historic and aesthetic value to merit the status of a significant heritage structure.”

He added, “St Cross already faces substantial space constraints. The Quadrangle feels incomplete and the existing facilities do not match the standards of many Oxford colleges. I hope another remedial solution can be found in the immediate future.”

The college extension, however, has received a more muted response among local Oxford residents. Jericho and Osney Councillor Susanna Pressel said, “I didn’t object but the residents felt [the extension] was too tall and I hope that a compromise can be reached. I know the college was very disappointed and its architects were very prestigious.”

Niall McLaughlin Architects had won a St Cross College competition to design the West Quadrangle in November 2012. The St Cross Governing Body voted almost unanimously in favour of McLaughlin’s entry.

Following the Council’s decision, Sir Mark Jones concluded, “The College has not yet decided what to do next but we certainly hope to find a way forward in the not too distant future.”