Demonstrators targeted Prince Charles’s visit to Oxford on Monday in an attempt to gain his support. The group of around 30 represented the Campaign to Protect Port Meadow from Oxford University (CPPMOU). The group gathered outside the Said Business School just before HRH The Prince of Wales and Lord Patten arrived at 12.15. As previously agreed with Clarence House, they then gave the Prince’s aide a letter.
The letter calls on Prince Charles to raise concerns about the University flats newly built off Port Meadow, and specifically for the top two storeys of the buildings to be removed. Prince Charles greeted the protesters and asked if they were from the local area, but did not stop and talk about Port Meadow.
The demonstration follows months of campaigning by local residents, including some students. An online petition to prevent “damaging views” of Port Meadow now has over 2200 signatures, close to its goal of 3000.
Protests against the flats began about five months ago. Although planning permission for the development was granted in 2000, a “variation” was allowed which approved two extra storeys. It is the extra height of the buildings which has particularly roused anger among residents. Despite the buildings being constructed on the perimeter of Port Meadow, campaigners believe that the environmental impact of the development was not properly considered. The development of Roger Dudman Way is also considered to be “architecturally ugly.”
In an open letter to the members and benefactors of the University of Oxford, CPPMOU write, “We have no objection to Roger Dudman Way being developed; we understand and support the need for the University to provide more student housing.
“We do, however, find it completely unacceptable that so many people’s enjoyment and experience of Port Meadow should be sacrificed, in perpetuity, because the University raised the height of the buildings by two storeys to create an approximate 100 extra rooms.”
The letter goes on to say that a “great majority of local residents and users of Port Meadow were completely excluded from any consultation process, and had no awareness whatsoever about the planning application until the buildings started to be built.”
The campaigners are asking for the university to lower the buildings voluntarily by two storeys.
Campaigners hoped that Prince Charles’s interest in architecture and heritage would mean that he was sympathetic to their cause. In the letter passed to his aides, CPPMOU describe Port Meadow as a “spiritual and environmental haven, used by the people of Oxford for centuries”.
The letter continues, “The historic ‘Dreaming Spires’ view from the Meadow of the grade 2* listed St Barnabas church tower has been all but obliterated.”
The new buildings are described as “barrack-like blocks…twice as high as the mature trees.”
Toby Porter, who has been organising the campaign, told Cherwell, “I am a former undergraduate and graduate, as I think are a huge number of protesters, and I would say, how sad for the current crop of Oxford students that you and your children won’t get to enjoy it as so many generations have before you, as an unspoiled haven, thanks to the greed and/or lack of professional competence of the University’s Estates office, and the absolute lack of sensitivity and accountability to the uproar in Oxford.
“Port Meadow is loved by everyone, except, it would seem, the Vice-Chancellor and a coterie of advisors in Wellington Square.”
Porter also commented that he felt University press statements had misportrayed the campaign as being against student accommodation.
Sushila Dhall, who started the petition, commented that the campaigners “will not give up.”
The University has stated, “We recognise that the Castle Mill development has aroused some strong feelings and that these have every right to be heard. The skyline of our city, in keeping with the history of Oxford itself, is a constantly evolving blend of the old and the new, the natural and the built. Castle Mill will provide accommodation for hundreds of students, thereby reducing pressure on Oxford’s constricted rental housing market.
“The University has acted in good faith throughout, and in line with proper procedures as laid down by the relevant authorities for all the planning and building phases of the project.”
Clarence House declined to comment on Prince Charles’s opinion of the matter.