A motion has been put forward to the University Congregation, a body made up of 5,000 senior University figures, to knock down the top floors of Castle Mill following an Environment Impact Assessment.
Castle Mill, an Oxford University graduate accommodation complex on Port Meadow, has been an ongoing source of controversy since planning permission was granted in February 2012. Many have been critical of the £21.5 million development, which blocks out Port Meadow’s famous view of Oxford’s ‘dreaming spires’.
Notable figures such as Phillip Pullman have spoken out against the accommodation complex, calling it “destructive, brutal, ugly vandalism”.
It has also had the dubious pleasure of being named one of the candidates for the 2013 Carbuncle Cup, the Building Design Online prize for the UK’s worst building.
After a high court challenge in 2012, the University commissioned a retrospective Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The report found the buildings had a high “adverse impact” on Port Meadow, the Oxford skyline, the
Thames, and St Barnabas Church.
It suggested three options to rectify this. The University has previously opted for option one – in essence, to camouflage the buildings.
This latest motion to the University Congregation favours option three: removing the top floors. This is estimated to cost upwards of £12 million, removes 38 bedrooms and require all residents to vacate the buildings for a year.
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Rev. Professor of the History of the Church at St Cross College and TV historian, who submitted the motion to the Congregation, argued, “A lot of money is going to be spent whatever option of remedying the
environmental damage caused by the flats is adopted. What would be worst of all would be to adopt a minimal solution as the administration in Wellington Square wants, still spend a lot of money, and get very little result.”
Although MacCulloch regretted the expenditure, he maintained that the fault lay with the University administration because of its initial failure to fulfil the planning conditions.
He also argued that, though high, the initial expenditure of this motion would “restore the good name of the University in the city of Oxford and beyond… So much trust has been lost, so much anger generated – and that anger exists among potential benefactors to the University, who may turn away from further giving because of the Castle Mill affair.”
Louis Trup, current OUSU president, expressed concerns about this route given the lack of housing for students with families. He argued that the huge costs of knocking down the top floors could lead to the demolition of the entire development, meaning the 300 graduate students who live in Castle Mill
would need to find new housing.
This would lead to an increase in students searching for rental properties, which, said Trup, “is likely to cause rent increases for private rentals in the city”.
He added, “The members of OUSU note the concerns of the Save Port Meadow campaign, but believe that limited mitigation strategies that reduce the visual impact of the development can alleviate these concerns without having the negative impacts on students and tenants in Oxford that removing the top floor or demolishing castle mill presents.”
Castle Mill resident Jemma Day agreed, arguing that she does not think Castle Mill is “that much of an eye sore” and that she found it hard to see how removing just one floor would make a significant difference.
On MacCulloch’s motion, a University spokesperson commented, “The request will be considered carefully and in accordance with university regulations.” The motion will be debated in February.