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Arne Jacobsen's Oxford gem threatened by flats plan, say objectors

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Plans by TP Bennett to build 286 student flats opposite Arne Jacobsen’s Grade I-listed St Catherine’s College in Oxford have been slammed by objectors

The scheme, backed by Merton College and developer McLaren Property, on land off Manor Place east of the city centre, have recently been revised in response to earlier criticism.

However, the reworked proposals (click here for full details) remain highly contentious. St Catherine’s finance bursar, Fram Dinshaw, claims they would still cause ’significant harm’ to the college’s registered gardens and listed buildings, including Jacobsen’s highly regarded 1962 college buildings.

Dinshaw told the AJ: ‘The proposals tragically ignore the opportunity for an imaginative scheme that would be worthy of its setting and useful to the collegiate university, in favour of an aggressively commercial attempt to squeeze the maximum rental value from the site.

’The proposals combine overbearing height with a mundane architectural expression’

‘In so doing, the proposals combine overbearing height and massing with a blank and mundane architectural expression that could as easily represent a care home or insurance office.’

Tweaks to the original planning application were submitted in December. However, the amendments are unlikely to appease the opponents of the project, which is known as Manor Place.

Among those who sent in objections in the summer were the Twentieth Century Society, Historic England and former RIBA President Stephen Hodder, who has worked with St Catherine’s College in the past (see attached).

The Oxford Civic Society has also laid into the reworked scheme, stating in a letter of 27 December: ‘Although parts of some buildings have been lowered, the wings orientated east–west remain unchanged.

‘These elements are thus still too high and the density of the development is too great, considering the location of the site and the nature of the surrounding land use and the character of the neighbourhood.

’The design fails to show the necessary regard for the location’

‘The location of the site would suggest that a more collegiate feel to the design would be much more appropriate; as it is, the design fails to show the necessary regard or respect for the characteristics of the location.’

In response, McLaren Property, which has been working on proposals for the site for more than three years, said the revised scheme reflected the input from ‘the local community, statutory consultees and a number of stakeholder groups, including the Oxford Design Review Panel, Historic England and the City Council’s officers’.

A spokesman said: ‘McLaren Property feels that the revised scheme balances the overwhelming need for new purpose-built student accommodation with the local heritage and environmental sensitivities identified in continued discussion with a wide range of stakeholders since January 2014.

‘The changes include:

  • the number of student rooms has been reduced from 349 to 286
  • the proposed building in the south-west of the site has been moved further away from Brasenose College Annex and Holywell Cemetery, reduced in height and both wings reduced in length, in order to further diminish sight of the proposed buildings from Holywell Cemetery
  • the entrance building facing the end of Manor Place has been reduced in length and moved eastwards to protect the amenity of Manor Place residents
  • the proposed building in the south east of the site has been moved south west-wards, reduced in height and reduced in length, to further diminish views from Magdalen College, the Deer Park and St Catherine’s College
  • a new single-storey covered link has been introduced to connect all three residential blocks, the view of which from Holywell Cemetery will be screened by the existing Cemetery wall and planting
  • the catering building has been sited away from the cemetery wall
  • changes have been made to the landscaping of the site’

Consultation on the reworked proposals closes on 8 January.

Arne Jacobsen's 1962 St Catherine's College in Oxford

Arne Jacobsen’s 1962 St Catherine’s College in Oxford

 Arne Jacobsen’s 1962 St Catherine’s College in Oxford - exterior sketch

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