Brookes wins High Court battle

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The £132m redevelopment of Oxford Brookes University’s Headington campus looks set to go ahead after a judicial review in the High Court last month ruled that Oxford City Council acted legally in approving planning permission for the project.
Local Headington Hill resident Martin Young, a retired property manager, took the case to the High Court after questioning the legality of building a “major social and entertainment centre that borders a residential area”.
However, Judge Anthony Thornton QC ruled that “the fact that members of the public will be entitled to use these facilities for buying books, visiting the bank or patronising the cafés does not alter this ancillary use, since members of the Brookes community will predominate”.
The University’s initial planning application was rejected by the council after residents complained that the buildings would be too tall. In 2009, locals speaking to The Oxford Times expressed their concerns about the “colonisation” of parts of Oxford by “student ghettos”.
Full planning permission was finally given to a revised design in June 2010, to which Oxford Brookes said they had made “significant compromises”. This included taking a storey off the height of the building, and removing the nightclub from the proposal.
Building work has already begun on a new library, lecture theatre, students’ union and public square, which Vice-Chancellor Janet Beer said would mark “the beginning of vital improvements to our campus”.
The Vice-Chancellor posed the question, “If [students] can eat, drink and study at Starbucks, why shouldn’t they expect to do that in a university?”
The ambitious revamp has provoked mixed responses amongst Brookes students. First year Joshua Read said, “It’s okay, but it’s pretty inconvenient for everyone at the moment. It’s going to be a building site for the next 3 years.” Another student training to be a primary school teacher stated positively that, “Because Headington is the main campus…I do think it needs to have a good, up to date library due to the fact that so many courses use it.”
Oxford Brookes has been keen to emphasise that “around 80% of the building is devoted to essential facilities such as library and teaching spaces”. They also pledged to remain “committed to working closely with local residents and the Council”, and to “continue to work to address the concerns of our neighbours” after the final design was approved.
Despite Brookes’ efforts to engage with the local community, Martin Young was not deterred from mounting a legal battle.
Young explained to Cherwell that, aside from his concerns about the erosion of residential privacy, his main point of contention was that the developers “want shops, without getting permission for shops”, and that he has submitted a request this week for permission to appeal the High Court’s decision.
Young admitted that “Litigation is a capricious process, as one learns to one’s cost”, but added that “There’s a time in life when you think you shouldn’t be pushed around.”
Oxford Brookes has distanced itself from the issue, stating, “This case is between Martin Young and the City Council, not Oxford Brookes. We believe the Council has a very strong defence and we are proceeding with the preparations for the building as planned.”
When upholding the Council’s decision, Anthony Thornton QC described Mr. Young’s effort as “valiant”, though “doomed to failure”.
Oxford University carried out a similar process of consultation with the community over plans for the equally ambitious £200 million development of the former Radcliffe Hospital site on Woodstock Road. Oxford’s proposals created relatively little controversy.

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