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Oxford U-turn over Bodleian Library 'theme park' plans

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Oxford University has made a massive U-turn by withdrawing its planning application to turn the Old Bodleian Library into a tourist attraction (AJ 25.10.01) after objectors deluged the city council with letters.

The university last week said it had withdrawn its application for listed building consent for the contentious £1.5 million scheme, called 'the Visitor Management Programme', after 91 objections.

It is now considering drawing up revised proposals instead, admitting that it got the needs of visitors and academics wrong.

Library director Reg Carr said he appreciated that there were 'genuine concerns' about aspects of the proposals, saying the way to manage large numbers of visitors to the library now had to be reconsidered.

'We must find an acceptable way to cope with tourists which is consistent with the library's primary purpose as a research library for scholars from around the world, ' he said. 'The needs of visitors and academics are clearly different and it is our responsibility to find a way to satisfy their sometimes conflicting interests.'

The university now expects to draw up a 'simpler' scheme than that put together initially by Event Communications - which also worked on Stirling Prize winner Magna - and will assess trends in 'actual' visitor numbers.A spokeswoman said the university has also withdrawn its submission to the Heritage Lottery fund.

'However, at this stage, we do not rule out working again with the Heritage Lottery fund if new proposals for a visitor management scheme should be developed in the future, ' she said.

Projected figures of 115,000 visitors per year to the new scheme, as opposed to 6,000 at the moment, were considered unrealistic.

Dr Martin Biddle, the university's professor of mediaeval archaeology, told the AJ: 'It's a U-turn whose time has come. I'm very satisfied given the disquiet about this scheme.' Biddle also criticised the university for only now realising that its figures for attendances could be wrong after spending £130,000 on the application.

English Heritage wrote to Oxford City Council about its concerns over the project, especially cautioning over its effects on the Proscholium and Divinity School - 'among the most important asecular spaces of their period in England' which should not be the site of 'visual blockages'.

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