PRESSURE is mounting on Oxford City Council over the validity of planning permission given to the Castle Mill student accommodation.

The council faces questions over its failure to consult on a revised scheme submitted by Oxford University, after warnings from the council’s heritage officer about “the harmful impact” of the five-storey blocks overlooking Port Meadow.

Campaigners, who say the blocks have ruined world famous views of the Oxford skyline from Port Meadow, have already launched a legal challenge.

And it is now claimed that approval given to the scheme in Roger Dudman Way in February 2012 should be invalidated in the light of new revelations.

Last week the Oxford Mail published a damning report by the leader of the council’s heritage team Nick Worlledge, warning that the “fragile” historic skyline would be harmed by new buildings.

The council argued that the damaging report was overtaken by events, with the university producing a revised plan that saw the highest 18.4m blocks reduced by 1.2m, with the “new scheme” submitted only six days before approval was given.

But two of the councillors, who sat on the planning committee, say it should have been treated as a fresh scheme and properly consulted upon, rather than being rushed through.

Opponents of the scheme hope that if the permission could be declared invalid, it would open the way to an environmental impact assessment, even forcing the university to apply for retrospective permission.

John Goddard, the vice chairman of the west area planning committee, said he had written to officers to clarify whether failure to consult on the revised proposal affected the validity of the permission.

He said: “ I was told there had been no objections to the original scheme and as the revised scheme was designed to make it even less controversial there was no need to consult.”

Elise Benjamin, who was also on the planning committee, said: “The council should have asked Nick Worlledge for a revised report and publicly consulted on the revised heights as if it were a new scheme.”

Louisa Dean, spokesman for the city council, said: “The council is at the first stages of legal action and we are considering the claims that have been made against us. We will be responding to them shortly. At this stage we cannot add anything further.

“A report will be prepared for councillors at the West Area Planning Committee on April 17 which outlines the recent discussions between Oxford University and the council.”

Earlier Michael Crofton Briggs, head of city development, said: “ Comments from across the team are fed into the report from myself which is then submitted to councillors for their comments.

“The original comments from the heritage and specialist services team leader relate to the proposals for Roger Dudman Way as originally submitted. These plans were revised and were then resubmitted.”

Oxford University Professor of History of the Church, Diarmaid MacCulloch said: “The university came up with a brand new plan that was all of 4ft lower – four feet, count them up.

“Councillors never saw the heritage officer’s report because it related to a different scheme. Many are now very angry, as are thousands of Oxford residents, dons and students.”

The Campaign To Protect England (Oxfordshire) launched a legal challenge two weeks ago. If the council does not amend or withdraw the planning permission, the matter is now expected to go to judicial review.


Voted against the scheme but said he was unaware of Nick Worlledge’s report.
Does not consider the lowering of the buildings by 1.2m to be a new scheme but would require legal advice on whether the permission is valid.

Abstained from voting saying the officer advice did not satisfy her concerns about the height but said she was unaware of the Worlledge report.
Said the report would have convinced her to vote against the proposal though she regards the 1.2m reduction in height as a new scheme and thinks the lack of consultation makes it invalid.

Voted in favour of the scheme and says “nothing was hidden” from the councillors on the committee and there were seven paragraphs in the report setting out the implications on for the views from Port Meadow.
He says his vote was weighed by Oxford’s “desperate need” for student housing and that he would need advice before deciding whether the 1.2m reduction constitutes a new scheme and whether the lack of consultation makes permission invalid.

Voted in favour of the scheme but said he was unaware of Nick Worlledge’s report.
He did not say whether it would have affected his vote but said he would have taken everything “carefully into account”.
Mr Van Nooijen said he did not consider the 1.2m reduction to be a new scheme but did not think the failure to consult on it makes the permission invalid.

Voted in favour.
He said: “The council is at the first stages of legal action over this issue and will be responding to them shortly. In the circumstances I would prefer not to comment further on this until those issues are resolved.”

Voted in favour of the scheme and said he was unaware of Nick Worlledge’s advice.
He says it would not have affected how he voted because the development would have helped tackle Oxford’s housing crisis and it did not face directly onto the meadow.
Mr Jones said he did not feel he could comment on whether the reduction of the buildings by 1.2m constituted a new scheme or on whether the failure to consult made planning permission invalid.

Claims he did not attend the meeting despite the minutes showing he attended as a substitute for Shah Khan.