THE company behind the £20m redevelopment of the Castle Mill Boatyard in Jericho was criticised for failing to engage with the community at an emotionally-charged meeting.
The boatyard scheme would see a ‘piazza’ created between St Barnabas Church and the Oxford Canal, bordered by a community centre, boatyard, nursery, restaurant and 22 homes.
But it has been delayed by protracted discussions between the developer and community groups about the future ownership of land and the community centre.
On Tuesday night, Oxford City Council’s west area planning committee was asked to sign off changes to the scheme – including a second bridge into the square – and to support an agreement that would have seen the centre leased to a community body.
Councillors backed the second bridge but rejected the lease proposals and instead demanded the developer, Strategic Iconic Assets Heritage Acquisition Fund (SIAHAF), guarantee the transfer of the freehold of the building to the community.
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Stephen Green, who represented SIAHAF, told councillors the firm wanted to retain control of the boatyard because it was concerned the two to three years residents have said they need to build the community centre was too long.
He also said the boatyard beneath it should be run “professionally” to make sure it was kept safe.
Speaking at the packed meeting, city councillor and committee member Colin Cook said: “I’m disappointed the developer has failed to engage in any sensible way with the community group. Frankly, it is a disgrace.”
Community group the Jericho Wharf Trust also complained that SIAHAF had held just two meetings with it since outline approval was given last February, despite repeated requests. It wants to run the boatyard and community centre itself, with trustees saying it has a business plan.
Addressing Mr Green, a visibly angry Mr Cook added: “I want to see a boatyard for the benefit of the community, otherwise I would not have voted for it.”
After the meeting, SIAHAF spokesman Mr Green said the firm would consider the meeting’s outcome but would not comment on its next move.
He said: “We want the boatyard delivered in good time. We do not want a site blighted with inactivity, because we want to create a decent environment for residents.”
“At the moment it is a mess and we want to change that.”
Wharf trust chairman Phyllis Starkey, the former city council leader and Milton Keynes Labour MP, told the Oxford Mail: “We’ve always said it would take two to three years to build the community centre and are appalled with the way the developer has acted.
“We’re pleased with how the council is taking this forward.”