Council approves New College ‘Ivory Tower’

Baroness Kennedy of Mansfield told the planning committee that New College paid "very little attention to our genuine concerns"

The proposed Warham Tower development

Oxford City Council has approved a controversial redevelopment proposal from New College, following a lengthy dispute which has seen the plans been labelled a “vanity project” and a “literal ivory tower”.

Warham Tower would overlook Mansfield’s residential quad, and some windows would have a line of sight into Mansfield students’ bedrooms.

New College told Cherwell that the approval was a “big win for Oxford”.

Last term, Mansfield principal Baroness Helena Kennedy filed an official complaint signed by to the Council regarding New College’s plans.

The complaint said the Tower was a “vanity project” and that “the whole community of the College is united in opposing the scheme as proposed.”

An English tutor at Mansfield, Dr Ros Ballaster, compared the building to a high-surveillance prison in a letter to the Council: “To provide you with a sense of the likely experience of Mansfield College residents and staff, I direct planners to the account of Jeremy Bentham’s design of the ‘panopticon’ in Michel Foucault’s work Discipline and Punish: a large central tower overlooks every room in a prison in which the inhabitants must assume they are under constant surveillance.”

At the Planning Committee meeting earlier this month, Baroness Kennedy told the committee: “Not all colleges are equal and this is a case of the big guy and the little guy.

“New College is seeking to get its way in this matter without considering its impact on a small, poorer neighbour.”

Mansfield’s Hilary complaint also alleged that Warham Tower would violate the ‘Carfax Rule’, an Oxford building code law which forbids any new building from exceeding 18.2 metres within 1.2km of Carfax Tower.

New College’s warden, Miles Young, told Cherwell that Mansfield’s “continuing complaints have had no foundation in planning law or precedent, as was made clear in the [Council] Planning Committee by both the officers and members in their decision.”

He added: “We have met with Mansfield repeatedly and extensively, and tried to accommodate their wishes as much as possible.

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“We are delighted that we can now move ahead with the plans, which have been praised as outstanding by Historic England, which by housing our third year students will take pressure off the Oxford housing market and which will significantly improve the streetscape of this part of Oxford.

“The approval is a big win for Oxford.”

Last term, then-JCR President Daria Lysyakova – who called the proposed building “a literaly ivory tower” – signed an objection to New College’s plans on the behalf of Mansfield JCR.

The letter repeats others’ concerns for students’ privacy: “Mansfield College JCR believe that the proposed development would constitute an unjust and unreasonable infringement on our privacy, and deplore the disregard New College has had in this respect.”

Lysyakova told Cherwell that the letter was put to a vote before it was sent, with Lysyakova noting it was “possibly the highest [student turnout] I had seen this year.”

Neither Lysyakova nor Mansfield have responded to further requests for comment.