Oxford academics have vetoed plans to knock the top floor off a student accommodation block criticised for ruining views of the ancient city
The university’s governing body – known as the congregation – voted 1,696-to-460 against the £30 million partial demolition proposal in a postal ballot.
The verdict came just weeks after Oxford academics attending the congregation in person voted 536-to-210 in favour of keeping the £24 million Castle Mill scheme largely intact.
The university will now work up £6 million plans for new timber cladding and tree planting to minimise the 312-unit development’s visual impact.
The course of action was one of three options outlined in an independent environmental impact assessment – commissioned by the university – which found Castle Mill had an ‘adverse impact’ on nearby Port Meadow and the city skyline.
The two other options – which included demolishing the Castle Mill’s top floor or rebuilding its roofline – have now been abandoned.
Designed by Kent-based Frankham Consultancy Group, the four and five-storey Castle Mill postgraduate buildings on the edge of Oxford’s Port Meadow have been the centre of ongoing controversy since planning permission was granted for the 312 home project in 2012.
Opposition group Save Port Meadow, as well as many leading academics, claimed the £24 million university-backed development blocks key views of Oxford’s famous skyline.
Several notable alumni, including Philip Pullman, openly voiced their anger over the scheme, describing the buildings as ‘destructive, brutal, ugly vandalism’.
The development has also been attacked for its design with former planning minister Nick Bowles commenting that the blocks were one of the ‘worst examples of modern design’ he had ever seen.
Oxford university’s student union – OUSU – however launched a campaign to save the buildings.
The organisation’s vice president for graduates elect, Nick Cooper said: ‘I’m delighted that members of Congregation have turned out and supported the overwhelming view of the meeting in February to keep Castle Mill intact, and it’s unfortunate that we had to go through the unnecessary added rigmarole of a postal vote to get there.
He continued: ‘Accepting option three would have wasted millions of pounds that I look forward to helping to convince the University to use more effectively towards graduate scholarships.’
A consultation on the latest plans to modify the buildings is expected to be launched this summer.
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Oxford professor of the history of the church and Save Port Meadow campaign supporter
Going to the postal vote was well worth doing to get a definite expression of opinion from the wider university. We tried to save the university from itself! We decisively moved the goal-posts by our campaign and gained a great deal: the university was forced to talk about an issue which the central authorities resolutely tried to avoid discussing, there is near-universal agreement that the Castle Mill development is an aesthetic disaster, and the central authorities have been compelled to start making apologies. People voted against our motion who hate the buildings but were frightened by what they have been told about the expenditure in putting them right - 460 members of congregation were sufficiently angry to vote for us. Now matters move on to a discussion between the university and the city council, and it will be very interesting to see how that develops. We who campaigned within the university will wait and see what happens then.