Plans for the construction of a divisive new £75m building in the heart of Jericho are now well and truly under way after the bid by David Freud, the owner of Freud bar on Walton street, to halt the project was rejected by a judicial review.
Despite Mr Freud’s claims that the project breached planning rules, the decision to approve the Blavatnik School of Government building was passed on the 15th of August by Mr Justice Ouseley.
The controversy was partly caused by the building’s design. The plans of Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron, who also designed the Tate Modern, show the structure as 22.5m-high, which would rise above a number of the city’s historic buildings. This, however, goes contrary to the council’s guideline that no building within 1,200m of Carfax is able to be taller than 18.2m.
This objection was declared void by Mr Justice Ouseley, who ruled that the authorities were free to disregard aspects of policies in suitable circumstances.
In previous comments Mr Freud has made it clear that he is of the opinion that the Oxford skyline is a “heritage asset” and that he was opposed to it being filled with a “drum full of light.”
The other issue raised by Mr Freud was that there may be members of the councils deciding body for whom private interests have swayed their decision. On this point also Mr Justice Ouseley was strongly opposed. Writing in his reasons for rejection he says, “There is no evidence that any of the councillors had disclosable pecuniary interests and that there is “no evidence of any unfairness in the conduct of committee.”
One of the councillors on the committee, Colin Cook, who is also chief technician at the university’s medical sciences’ teaching centre told Cherwell, “After the initial refusal of permission for judicial review on the basis of the written representations, I was not surprised that the decision at the subsequent hearing remained the same.”
On the building’s controversial design he commented “I believe it will be a positive addition to the eclectic mix of architectural styles in the city.”
The approval of planning has also come as a great relief to the Blavatnik School of Government, which is part of the University of Oxford, and was founded with a £75m donation from American billionaire Leonard Blavatnik.
A spokeswoman from the Blavatnik School of Government commented, “We are very pleased that the judge has upheld the planning committee’s decision to give approval for our building. We are excited about our prospective move to Walton Street in autumn 2015, and look forward to continued engagement with the local community as our building work progresses.
“As the new home for the Blavatnik School, this building will be an exciting space in which students, researchers, policy makers and visitors can exchange knowledge and ideas on how to make public policy better and improve the quality of government around the world. At any given time, the building will accommodate up to 550 people.
“With a dynamic programme of events, conferences and seminars, many of which will convene experts from all sectors of society and be open to students across Oxford and the general public, it will be a space that invites engagement with the wider world, as well as the local community.”
No one from Freud was available to comment.