Councillor’s comments cause backclash from residents

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An Oxford councillor reviewing a bid for the construction of 26 student flats in East Oxford has labelled some complaints against the bid ‘frankly offensive.’ Tony Brett, a councillor for Carfax Ward and Chairman of its Planning Review Committee, said that the language used in emails to him sounded ‘horribly like the racism of the 60s, the homophobia of the 80s and the sexism of the 70s.’

He cited emails from residents claiming that students ‘are incapable of talking quietly or without using offensive language in every sentence […]along with continuously playing loud music.’ Another email from a resident said that the ‘community is being destroyed and controlled by the universities and their students.’

Mr Brett, an alumnus of Corpus Christi, said, ‘It is very dangerous to start making assumptions about people’s behaviour based on who they are rather than what they do. There has always been a bit of ‘town/gown’ tension in Oxford and I suspect there always will be.

‘It’s true to say that student numbers have increased quite significantly in the last five to ten years but I don’t believe that should be any reason for all people in Oxford not to be able to get on with each other and live in harmony. We hear about resident/student battles but my view is that students are also residents and as much a part of the community as everyone else.’

Ed Chipperfield, Chairman of the nearby James Street Residents’ Association, criticised Mr Brett’s choice of comparison. ‘Residents, including students, should feel free to raise objections to planning or voice criticism about how their environment is managed. Tony has carelessly abused the trust that people place in him as a councillor by ridiculing people’s honest opinions in a public arena.’

He pointed out some tensions in his area, saying, ‘There are a few issues that everyone agrees need tackling. We have a real problem with antisocial behaviour, particularly late at night and especially after Fuzzy Duck’s at the O2. I can’t speak for everyone in East Oxford, but I can let you know what I’ve seen in the last six months. People kicking walls over, knocking bins off their stands, climbing lampposts, urinating through people’s letterboxes, urinating through garden fences, falling over in front of moving traffic, two cases of ABH – there’s more, but this gives you a picture.

‘The real friction is just a simple fact of numbers: there’s an expanding amount of students in a very small area, making locals into a smaller proportion of total population than ever before. You can’t blame people for wanting to live here. If the proportion of students is allowed to rise without check, then we’ll see a lot more independent traders shutting down because they can’t sustain their businesses.

‘There is no divide between students and locals in East Oxford. Clean streets, safety at night, thriving local businesses, a good night’s sleep without disturbance – what’s good for locals is good for students, too.’

A spokesman for Oxford University said, ‘The University of Oxford is committed to playing a role in the local community and minimizing any disruption to Oxford residents. We are the city’s largest employer; our world-class museums and our various green spaces are free to enjoy; our medical research directly benefits local hospital patients; we work closely with local schools, including primary schools; and over 3,000 Oxford students are involved in volunteer work, many of them locally.’

The spokesman also said, ‘The University of Oxford provides extensive accommodation for its students: at least two and often three years of accommodation for undergraduates, in contrast to most universities, which provide one.

‘The University is committed to creating more student accommodation to further ease pressure on the local rental market. Student accommodation developments are undertaken not just for the benefit of students but to ease the pressure of a large student population on city residents by taking students out of the rental market.’

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