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City's Castle Mill maintenance deal is a 'conflict of interest'
COUNCIL bosses have been accused of having a conflict of interest after a maintenance contract for university buildings was awarded to the Town Hall.
The three-year contract doesn’t currently include the controversial Castle Mill building – but the university has confirmed that it will once the contractor’s warranty runs out within a year.
The council has been selling its services since 2011 and uses its team which looks after council buildings to earn money for the authority.
But the contract in question has caused outcry from campaigners who opposed the Castle Mill development in Roger Dudman Way.
Save Port Meadow group spokesman Toby Porter said: “Hopefully Oxford City Council can use this contract to the advantage of Oxford residents, by asking their maintenance staff to take a couple of storeys off the buildings while they are on the Castle Mill site.”
It comes as the university yesterday confirmed for the first time that its students would be moved into the 312-room block as planned next month, despite the fact the council has yet to sign off on several conditions on the site – including one about contaminated land.
Campaign to Protect Rural England director Helen Marshall added: “I think this really looks bad, and to us this highlights the conflict of interest which we feel is the root of a lot of the problems with this whole situation.”
But city council leader Bob Price denied there was a conflict of interest.
He said: “The building is there and has to be maintained. We are seeking to drive up the income from Direct Services so the whole thing seems entirely reasonable from a commercial point of view.
“I don’t see that there’s any conflict of interest because the two processes [planning and direct services] are entirely separate.”
Council spokeswoman Louisa Dean said: “We are always looking at ways to expand our income which offsets our costs and helps maintain vital services in the city to our residents. It is good news that the council is recognised as a provider of good-quality, value-for-money services.”
University spokesman Matt Pickles said: “We held an open and competitive tender process for this contract for low value reactive maintenance work throughout the University.
“Six contractors were interviewed and two were appointed, one of which was Oxford Direct Services.”
Mr Pickles added: “The university is to house students for the next academic year in the new graduate accommodation at Castle Mill as planned.
“We are confident both that the site is fully environmentally suitable for residential use and, after taking independent legal advice, that we are acting reasonably and responsibly in using the accommodation for its intended purpose. The city council has been informed as part of our continuing dialogue on the project.
‘We have addressed all contamination issues on the site in their entirety and carried out all necessary remedial work, to the satisfaction of the city and environmental authorities.”
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