Clem’s accommodation condemned

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Oxford University has stated that a proposed three new blocks of student accommodation on the St Clement’s car park would have an ‘‘unacceptable impact’’ on residents. The developer, Watkin Jones Group, has already been forced to alter their proposal, which now consists of three blocks totalling 141 bedrooms, instead of the four which it suggested last October.

The University has emphasised the negative effects which the building would have on their graduate housing at Alan Bullock Close, stating that the obscuring of sunlight and decreased privacy constitute “an unacceptable loss of amenity’’. They also stressed their desire for the new accommodation to be restricted to students from Oxford and Oxford Brookes universities.

There are worries that the commercial life of St Clement’s will suffer drastically as a result of the development. Although the new proposal allows for over half of the 120 parking spaces to remain, many traders still have concerns as it is estimated that the car park will be closed for 12-14 months while the blocks are built.

Clinton Pugh, owner of several establishments on the Cowley Road, argues that ‘‘there is a very real fear that lots of small businesses in the area won’t survive that long’’.

He said, ‘‘[Oxford City] Council, in their arrogance, are going to completely undermine all of the work that I, and other small businesses, have done over the past 20 years to make St Clement’s a vibrant part of the city. It’ll be a very sad state of affairs when it all starts falling apart.’’

Doubts are also arising as to whether the replacement car park will materialize. Alan Grosvenor, a resident of the area and the owner of Sevenoaks Sound and Vision on St Clement’s Street, acknowledges that the Council’s proposal of a replacement temporary car park “feels like something they’re paying lip service to, not something that will actually happen.’’

He is also concerned that the new car park (located underneath the blocks) will have its own negative impact, adding, ‘‘I can only see that this will encourage crime and acts of loitering and other illicit acts carried out by undesirables who will be attracted to the car park.’’

It is not only the permanent residents of Oxford who have doubts about the development. Alex Ryzak, a student at Magdalen College, one of the Colleges closest to the accommodation, which provides its students with housing throughout their degrees, said, ‘‘I do not think that the location of these flats, though well placed, is likely to tempt many of the students […] away from the  convenience of living in College’’.

When students are struggling to find housing, however, the story may be different. Sasha O’Connor, a second year at St Hugh’s, said, ‘‘We left it a bit late to find a house and by March everything decent seemed to be taken and now we’ve ended up paying more than we can really afford because we didn’t want to have to live miles away from town. I think this new accommodation will be good if it allows more students to live affordably within the city centre.’’

Councillor Colin Cook said, ‘‘the move by some Colleges to build purpose-built student accommodation has freed up college-owned housing for sale on the open market, and this will help provide much-needed housing for both families and young professionals who are often competing with students for the limited supply of housing in the city.’’

The Council has taken a £356,000 non-returnable deposit from the Watkins Jones Group, and is estimated to make £3.5million from the development. A Watkins Jones representative declined to comment. The Council will present the proposal at a planning meeting on 13th July.

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