CONCERNS have been raised about the impact the multi-million pound redevelopment of the Westgate could have on Oxford’s historic skyline.
English Heritage has written to Oxford City Council saying the developer behind the £400m scheme is “pushing the envelope” with the proposed height of the buildings.
Developer, the Westgate Alliance, has submitted a planning application to the city council for approval.
But the government body says “further work” is needed on the proposals to make them acceptable.
David Brock, principal inspector of historic buildings and areas at English Heritage, said: “Intense discussion with the specialist advisers shows that this proposal is softening in some ways, but as it stands the outline concept certainly works against the applicants in this instance.
“It should not be acceptable for an applicant to be given this degree of latitude.”
Under the so-called Carfax Height Guideline, buildings within 1,200m of the 23m high Carfax Tower are prevented from exceeding 18.2m above street level to make sure the famous views of Oxford’s spires are preserved.
But some parts of the new Westgate building exceed this height limit and one part is three metres taller.
Mr Brock has suggested that a “substantial reduction” is made to the building by “better design”.
Peter Thompson, chairman of Oxford Civic Society, also raised concerns about the building’s design.
He said: “We have serious concerns that the design proposals continue to be inward-looking.
“We consider that this raises the risk of the Westgate Centre being perceived as a separate island within the city, rather than an integral and fully-connected element of its urban context.”
The Westgate Alliance, made up of landowners Land Securities and the Crown Estate, submitted a plan which some hope will end a decade of waiting for the shopping centre to be redeveloped.
Once completed it will include a 10,000sq ft John Lewis store, as well as cafes, restaurants, shops and a cinema – which would be the tallest building English Heritage is concerned about.
John Lewis’s three-storey store would provide the centrepiece of the new shopping centre and create 2,650 jobs.
Westgate Alliance spokesman Leanne Parkinson said: “Westgate Alliance is very conscious of the historical importance of Oxford city centre and its buildings.
“Extensive research and assessment has been undertaken, so that the context of the site including views and archaeology has been fully understood and used to inform the outline proposals.
“We will continue to consult closely with key stakeholders concerned with Oxford’s heritage assets and views as the detailed designs are developed.”