Oxford City Council is piloting a new scheme to outline the proposed shapes of buildings with poles before they are built, in order to increase public awareness of they will look like.
The scheme is inspired by a similar Swiss initiative called Bauprofil, which erects poles to show shape and height of proposed buildings. With buildings over three stories high, the aim is to use balloons in order to indicate height and dimensions.
City Councillor James Fry, who put forth this idea to the Labour Group on the City Council, outlines the motives for the proposal, “What triggered this proposal was the clear evidence I had, as a new councillor elected in 2012, that many residents were shocked when they saw the actual scale of developments that had been approved after planning applications.”
He further commented, “I thought that there must be better ways to let people see the true scale of a proposed development on the site where it is actually proposed to site it, rather than having to rely upon architects’ diagrams placed on the City Council website.”
The scheme aims to allow residents a chance to comment on proposed building plans, to relieve residential concerns and to allow an opportunity to change contentious applications once concerns of the impact of the planning schemes have been raised.
Oxford University and the City Council received criticism in 2012 when the ongoing Castle Mills controversy was sparked due to graduate housing being built upon Port Meadows. This was widely criticised as ugly and spoiling the view of Oxford’s ‘Dreaming Spires’. The resulting building has been subject to countless public condemnation and an independent review that concluded that both the consultation procedure and application of the proposal were inadequate.
In light of this, some are sceptical about the new scheme. A member of the Save Port Meadow Campaign, Matthew Sherrington, told Cherwell, “this story is something of a distraction on the part of Councillors. It is interesting to see the Council’s rush to “learn lessons” when Councillors say on one hand they didn’t know what they were approving, one Councillor describing it as “a disaster”, while saying on the other they were not misled by Council officers, and did nothing wrong.”
He went on to say that, “What the people of Oxford want to see is the Council and University taking action to put right the wrong they have done the City, with meaningful mitigation measures on the height and visual impact of the Port Meadow blocks.”
The University of Oxford Press Office also spoke to Cherwell, “As the most frequent planning applicant in Oxford, we support efforts being made to improve the consultation process.”
The proposed scheme is set to be implemented on a pilot basis with a planned new block of flats in a car park site in North Oxford to be the first pilot.