An inquiry into the controversial Oxford University graduate blocks at Port Meadow has found that both the consultation procedures and the University’s initial application were inadequate.
Although clearing Oxford County Council of previous suspicions of malpractice, the review held both the University and the Council accountable for a series of errors in the application, planning and consultation process.
The £21.5m Castle Mill development at Port Meadow has been widely criticised since its conception in 2012. According to the Save Port Meadow Campaign, “The buildings vandalise the views of the Dreaming Spires and ruin the tranquil experience of Port Meadow”. Author and Oxford resident Phillip Pullman has denounced the structures as, “destructive, brutal, ugly vandalism”.
The independent inquiry, carried out by Vincent Goodstadt, a former President of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), looked into the planning process which led to the development. It concluded that, although not deliberate, “the consultative processes on the [development] were not adequate for a combination of reasons and did not meet best practice.
According to the review, one of the primary problems was that: “Some of those most affected were not involved or even aware of the application or processes”. Factors contributing to this included the failure of the University’s consultants to “invite those whom the applicant thought had been invited”, and to put the site notices “in places that were high profile for those who later were to raise objections”.
The University was also criticised for its initial application, which Mr Goodstadt said “contained errors and was not adequate in various ways”.
A University spokesperson commented, “We will look carefully at the recommendations in this report”.
Save Port Meadow and CPRE Oxfordshire released a joint statement expressing their views on the conclusions of the report, “The report of the Review into the Castle Mill development is enormously disappointing, failing to address key issues and missing an important opportunity to improve planning in Oxford.
“We stand by our view that there is significant evidence of breaches in statutory regulation and possible malpractice.”
Nicky Moeran, a member of the Save Port Meadow group, commended the report. He said, “The heart of the document contains some very damning findings for both the city council and the university, which all tie in with what we have said repeatedly over the last 12 months.
Matthew Sherrington, another member, told Cherwell, “The University did indeed make misleading statements in its application, but the Council failed to check them, failed to consult the community properly, failed to inform Councillors properly, failed to assess the visual impact of the development properly, and failed to act against the University when it breached planning conditions on two separate occasions.
“Throughout, the University has shown complete arrogance and disregard for the community, refusing to engage at all, or respond to any correspondence. They have done immense damage to relations with the town and their own reputation in this matter.”
One graduate student at the University noted, “The fact that they had to go so undercover to pass these plans through the consultation process shows how unpopular they knew they would be.
“If the council unwittingly accepted them because they thought the buildings would not be as tall, the University need to pay up to rectify the situation.
However, Engineer student Ben Spiro pointed out, “As ugly as the buildings are, it doesn’t really make that much difference pointing the finger now– there’s not much we can actually do since the buildings are already there.”