Plans to build four new University buildings in Headington have run into stiff opposition from residents, as locals claim that the University is not doing enough to minimise the impact of this development on the surrounding community.
The £57m proposal, which won formal approval from Oxford City Council last week, would house the new Nuffield Department of Medicine and the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, which are moving from London. The development will be used for research into medical conditions including dementia and arthritis.
150 staff are expected to work at the site, and residents are concerned about the pressure it might place on local traffic and residential parking. The Divinity Road Area Residents’ Association (DRARA) has been particularly vocal, telling Cherwell, “Hundreds of construction staff, and then permanent staff and visitors, will be free to use our streets as a car park”.
A particular issue for the Residents’ Association is the travel plan submitted by the University as part of its application for planning permission. They claim that it includes an inaccurate travel survey, under-reporting of on-site staff numbers, and unrealistic estimations of future falls in car usage, which mean that it is “not credible and, in parts, is misleading”.
Oxford University, however, categorically denies these claims, insisting that “The Travel Plan has been reviewed by the county council who agreed the assessment reflected the situation in Oxford.”
DRARA has criticised the behaviour of the body responsible for the project, the Oxford University Estates Directorate, claiming it has been “uncooperative in responding to residents’ requestlicens for help and information”.
In their submission to the City Council DRARA cites instances in which it felt that letters from locals had received delayed or unhelpful responses, and says that the affair “indicates that the Estates Directorate are not sympathetic to the problems experienced by neighbouring institutions and residents”.
The University again denies these claims, telling Cherwell in a statement this week, “It is University policy to consult widely on every planning proposal and this one was no different.”
The spokesman for the University stressed that they have responded to local concerns. He said that certain key changes to the planned building work had been made after the public consultation, pointing out that “the building will be further from Old Road than was originally planned and the number of windows will be reduced.”
He added, “We will continue to consult with interested parties to address any concerns as the process continues. We have tried to answer questions from residents and third parties during the process but in some cases the information to answer questions simply was not available.”
Both the local council and the University hope to avoid the congestion feared by local residents by implementing Controlled Parking Zones, areas which limit unrestricted parking to licensed vehicles (usually belonging to residents). These zones are commonly found in urban areas to protect local parking availability from commuters and visitors.
Oxford City Council told Cherwell that the planning committee “felt that [the potential for extra cars] could be alleviated”, adding that “immediate neighbouring roads have Controlled Parking Zones”.
The University pointed out that they have paid a contribution to the County Council, and that “The County Council and University have agreed that the priority for this money should be to implement Controlled Parking Zones near the Old Road site.”