THE finding that there was no malpractice or wrongdoing by Oxford City Council over the Castle Mill development is not a surprise.

But before there is any popping of champagne corks, it was only a cynical minority who saw a determined conspiracy over the planning permission for these blocks that are so controversially visible on the Port Meadow skyline.

It was always the case that Oxford City Council mishandled the whole process badly, and that the modern-day planning process almost appears set up to keep the wider public at arm’s length over decisions.

The acceptance of a recommendation to set up an independent panel of planning and heritage experts to look at large-scale developments and chief executive Peter Sloman’s comments are an admission things went wrong. But it sticks in the craw that instead of expecting our council planning officers do their jobs properly, the city has to wheel in outside experts at the taxpayers’ expense to prevent bungling.

The whole issue around Castle Mill is that people felt hoodwinked because the application flew under most people’s radars, especially once a critical report about the impact on the skyline was deemed as no longer relevant and airbrushed out of the process.

A few years ago planning authorities were allowed to retract the extent they had to make people in the wider area aware of applications. We warned then this was highly unsatisfactory, and this may well have played a part in why the stink over Castle Mill arose only when those blocks began to climb skywards, after permission had been granted.

The city council failed. Let’s hope it has learned its lesson.