THE cost to Oxford University of reducing the environmental impact caused by its Castle Mill student blocks could exceed £30m.
The bill to remove a floor from six of the eight buildings, described as an eyesore by critics, lower roof levels and add cladding is put at £12m.
But the loss of 38 bedrooms and price of providing alternative accommodation would add millions to the cost of easing the visual impact of the buildings on Port Meadow and the city skyline.
As previously revealed in the Oxford Mail, options put forward to soften the appearance of the flats, for 312 students, include a line of trees and new cladding.
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It is one option of three preferred by Oxford University and is the cheapest, coming in at £6m.
A council planning commitee is set to rule on whether or not the flats, which already had planning permission, meet imposed planning conditions.
But Oxford City Council have refused to say whether or not they actually have the power to make the Univeristy demolish or reduce the height of the buildings.
City council leader Bob Price said that if the committee decided the measures weren’t enough, the University could appeal to the Planning Inspector.
However, Mr Price added he did not know what would happen if the inspector rejected that appeal.
Critics say the reported £30m cost of the more effective height cutting solution is reached by including £2.5m lost in rent during works.
It also includes £8m lost in rent over 25 years, through the loss of 38 bedrooms, and the cost of building accommodation elsewhere, put at £7.5m.
The Save Port Meadow campaign’s Toby Porter said: “Trees will take 15 years to grow and will not reach the height of the buildings. Without reduction in height, the reduction in impact on Port Meadow is minimal.
“What is unacceptable is for the university seeking to balance their own financial interest after building a carbuncle they should not have built. They have no one to blame but themselves for the harm done to Port Meadow and the cost of putting it right.”
The huge costs involved in mitigation work are set out in the Environmental Impact Assessment into the blocks in Roger Dudman Way.
Removing a storey – meaning the loss of 33 one- and two-bedroom flats – is one of three mitigation options set out in the independent assessment.
But while this costly work is judged the best way to reduce the visual impact from “substantial” to “slight ” on the majority of the landscape, the university is proposing the cheapest option in the report.
The study found that the Castle Mill development had had an “high adverse impact” on four major heritage sites at Port Meadow, the Oxford skyline, the Thames and its towpath and the listed St Barnabas Church.
The report and mitigation options are now the subject of a seven-week public consultation, ending on December 18.
Oxford City Council’s West Area Planning Committee will in the new year vote on whether measures proposed by the university are sufficient.
Paul Goffin, university director of estates, said: “We will plant more trees on the western boundary of the site, and we will soften the colour and textures of the buildings.
“This is the best option to balance the environmental sensitivities with financial responsibility.”
Oxford City Council said in a statement: “The Environmental Statement includes proposals by the university to undertake significant improvements to the development, including landscaping and changes to the buildings.’’ It added: “The improvements are a response to the planning conditions imposed by the council.”
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