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Design tweak that tipped balance in Port Meadow student flats row
CAMPAIGNERS have criticised the redesign of Port Meadow student blocks after it emerged the change made following concerns about height was to take the tip off the roofs.
Oxford City Council heritage officer Nick Worlledge felt the development in Roger Dudman Way would have a “harmful impact” on the Oxford skyline in a strongly worded report last year. As a result the university submitted revised plans that reduced the height of the building by 1.2m. That meant the full extent of Mr Worlledge’s criticisms was not heard when councillors made their decision to approve it in February 2012. They were told the university had sought to mitigate the impact.
Now though the university has admitted that, rather than reducing the height of the whole structure, the redesigned scheme only took a section away from the gable, removing its apex.
Helen Marshall, the director of the Campaign to Protect Rural England Oxfordshire, said: “In our view it is completely ridiculous. They can’t have it both ways. “Either it was a significant change, in which case the scheme should have gone out again for consultation, or it was not a significant change, in which case the heritage officer’s reports were still valid.
“We think the council should think again and so should the university.
“The building should be reduced by two stories at the very least.”
The city council is now facing a legal challenge over the decision to approve the scheme last February, as residents and campaigners continue to object.
The Oxford Mail asked the council whether simply removing the central section of the roof constituted enough of a redesign to make the plans acceptable and it would not comment.
City council spokeswoman Louisa Dean said: “The council is at the first stages of legal action and we are considering the claims that have been made against us.
“We will be responding to them shortly. At this stage we cannot add anything further.”
Adrian Arbib, Jericho Community Association committee member, said: The height reduction is pointless. It is 1.2m – the height of a small child. It is a laughable reduction and not effective at all.
“They have scarred the place.
“Port Meadow is a national scheduled monument and it is part of the history of Oxford. The whole thing is just shocking.”
University spokesman Matt Pickles said the redesign was carried out by the university’s architect and the council did not have any input.
He said: “The design of the roofs was reconfigured to achieve the reduction in height.”
Mr Pickles added that the university had not commented on whether it thought removing a section of the roof was sufficient to affect whether the scheme was approved or not.
Sushila Dhall, who has been campaigning against the buildings, said the university’s redesign “made a mockery” of the role of heritage officers.
She said: “Look at all the things the council has done – the plans and the heritage advice left out.
“If a householder put up an extension that did a 10th of the damage they would be told the plan had been misleading and to lower it.
“I think it is completely outrageous that in the face of an excellent heritage report the university seems to have decided to take off a very tiny snip from the building and then to think that this was enough.
“The university should have gone back to the drawing board.”
The Oxford Mail also asked for an interview with Michael Crofton Briggs, the head of city development, but this request was turned down.
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