CAMPAIGNERS hope an environmental assessment of the controversial Castle Mill flats could lead to a reduction in height.

Oxford University has confirmed it has appointed independent environmental planning consultants, Nicholas Pearson Associates, to carry out a “voluntary” Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the five-storey student accommodation blocks.

Now those against the scheme believe it marks a “complete turn around in attitude” and could be the first retrospective assessment of its kind.

Matthew Sherrington, of the Save Port Meadow Campaign, said: “It has been a long haul, 18 months. From the outset we have argued that an EIA should be done.

“The EIA should have been done right at the start and we are confident that had it been, we would not have the Port Meadow blocks as they stand.

“We feel vindicated. But we are under no illusion that the EIA will deliver a reduction in height in itself. Whatever its recommendation the university and council will still have to act on it – and probably will have to be pushed to act on it.”

In a letter to other members Mr Sherrington wrote: “Pearson Associates told us they will not exclude recommending changes to the height or form of the building.

“We obviously don’t know where this will lead and what changes will eventually be possible or implemented, but the consultants were clear to us that nothing is off the table in terms of what they can recommend if the impacts warrant it, including height reduction.”

Campaigners claim the accommodation blocks for 312 students in Roger Dudman Way are too high and block famous views of the city from Port Meadow.

The Oxford branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England last year failed in a High Court bid for a judicial review on the scheme’s planning decision.

Its chairman Sietske Boeles, said: “We are confident that, in keeping with best practice, Pearson Associates will fully explore the many impacts of the design, and will not exclude recommending changes to the height and form of the buildings to reduce these impacts.

“The mitigation advice that should have happened at the start will then be available for everyone to see and the subject to full public consultation.”

Oxford City Council has already commissioned a review into how the university secured planning permission in February 2012, headed by the planning expert Vincent Goodstadt.

It cleared the city council of malpractice, but his report has led to the creation of a new panel to examine large scale schemes even before planning applications are submitted.

University spokesman, Matt Pickles, said: “We will submit the EIA as soon as possible to enable Oxford City Council to take its remaining decisions on this project with access to all the environmental information.”

Nicholas Pearson Associates had not commented at the time the Oxford Mail went to press.