Planning Minister calls Castle Mill "disgraceful"

Planning minister Nick Boles has called Oxford University’s Castle Mill development a “disgrace” and requested an apology from Oxford City Council and the University of Oxford.

After visiting campaigners in Oxford yesterday, Boles, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Planning, said in an interview with the Oxford Mail, “I think this is a really disgraceful process, that these are disgraceful buildings, and both the university and the council have a responsibility to the community of Oxford to do something about it to lessen the impact of these buildings and to make sure that the process in the future never allows something like this to happen again.”

He added, “Consultation was wholly inadequate, borderline totally absent. I think that this design is possibly one of the worst designs I’ve seen of any set of new buildings to go up in the last ten years. Frankly, it reminds me of the Maze prison. What we can all see, looking at these buildings, is that the colour of them is obtrusive, that the materials are obtrusive, and the scale of them is obtrusive.”

In addition, the Save Port Meadow Campaign has asked the City Council and Oxford University to apologise for their “lack of public consultation” regarding the Castle Mill development near Port Meadow. Their bid for an apology has been backed by Boles, who said, “I also think that they [Oxford City Council and Oxford University] owe an apology to the people of Jericho, the people of Wolvercote, and indeed anybody who knows Oxford, who lives in Oxford and who loves Oxford.”

The student accommodation, which houses 439 graduate students, opened last term after the High Court ruled against establishing a judicial review on the decision to grant planning permission for the flats.

The Save Port Meadow Campaign has staged a number of demonstrations against Castle Mill, and claim on their website that, “the buildings vandalise the views of the Dreaming Spires and ruin the tranquil experience of Port Meadow.”

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In an email sent to Peter Sloman, Chief Executive of the Oxford City Council, the Save Port Meadow Campaign asked the City Council to issue, “the full and unreserved apology to local communities in Oxford that they deserve.”

They said that press releases from the City Council and the Save Port Meadow Campaign, “perpetuat[ed] entirely false claims that there had been a substantive consultation with local communities.” They also alleged, “inaccurate and misleading press statements [have] now [been] confirmed as amplifying serious and fundamental falsehoods made by Oxford University and the Council’s Planning Department.

The email also claimed, “We said repeatedly over half a year or more that press claims about “extensive local consultation” were false and insulting, and totally contradicted by hundreds and hundreds of comments from angry members of the public on the petition site.”

It added, “That the public were telling the truth about the consultation exercise, and that Council and University were not, has now been confirmed beyond all doubt. Yet, neither institution has yet had the decency or sense of public accountability to have issued an apology. Really?”

Furthermore, an independent review by Oxford City Council’s west area planning committee, which was published last Tuesday, found that the consultation on the plans for the buildings was “inadequate” but confirmed that the council had fulfilled its statutory obligations effectively.