Progress is well underway in the construction of Balliol College’s new student accommodation, situated between St Cross Road and Jowett Walk. 

Two hundred new study bedrooms will allow the college to house all of its undergraduates for the duration of their degree as well as a greater number of graduate students. Currently, Balliol only has facilities to house two-thirds of its undergraduates, meaning that the rest have to live in privately rented housing.

In addition to providing accommodation for students, the 10 new buildings will also provide sets for Fellows and the Eastman Professor. A 200-year-old birch tree will feature at the centre of the development alongside squash courts, changing rooms, and a new sports pavilion with a main hall for dining, events, and watching sports. A terrace will open the site to the junction of Manor Road and St Cross Road and connect the site with the Holywell Manor graduate centre on the other side of the road.

Progress on Balliol’s Master’s Field Project: February 2020 – Timelapse

Balliol first submitted planning permission for the site in 2016, and construction commenced in September 2018. The project gained national attention when the completed block C1 was used first as an isolation unit for students experiencing coronavirus symptoms and now as free accommodation for researchers working on the development of a vaccination for COVID-19. As builders work on the construction site, health is still a number one priority.

The College Master, Dame Helen Ghosh, said in a comment to the Cherwell: “BAM, the construction company working on the Master’s Field has been working within the strict ‘social distancing’ rules laid down by Government for the construction industry, and has continued to make steady progress on the build of Phase 2 of the site (the Sports Pavilion and remaining graduate accommodation along St Cross Road). Special arrangements have been made to ensure distancing within buildings and around the site, including when eating and taking breaks, to ensure workers’ safety. The managers estimate that they are able to work at about 70-80% of normal efficiency.”

Like many other colleges, Balliol has come under pressure from Oxford City Council to provide more accommodation for its students, as part of the Council’s long-term strategy for housing.

The Council’s Local Plan for student accommodation states:

“Demand for student accommodation places pressure on the local housing stock, both from students accommodated directly in private rented housing, and also from student accommodation being developed in sites that may be equally suitable for other types of housing. Oxford City Council has a long-standing policy approach to attempt to manage and reduce pressures of students on the housing market. Core Strategy Policy CS25 requires each university to have no more than 3,000 full-time students living in Oxford outside of university-provided accommodation. To avoid worsening the situation, all increases in student numbers at the two universities should be matched by an equivalent increase in student accommodation. Planning permission will not be granted for new academic facilities if the numbers of students exceeds 3000.”

Other colleges are making similar efforts to up their housing stock. University College has applied for planning permission for new student blocks on Banbury Road. Jesus college is constructing graduate accommodation as part of its large project on Cornmarket Street. St Peter’s College has raised over £12 million in under six months in order to build two new accommodation buildings and a common room as part of the ‘Castle Hill House Project’.