IT should be a fairly easy question for Oxford City Council to answer. If the University of Oxford starts moving students into the Castle Mill accommodation blocks before it signs off that the developer has met all the planning conditions, is that illegal?

And if it is illegal, will they do anything about it?

The University has not been definite that it will charge on ahead with housing students without final sign-off from the council so it is a hypothetical situation, but surely giving a general answer on the law as it stands is an easy thing for a department of planning professionals.

Yet what we got yesterday from the council was a no comment.

Given that this council has just blundered its way though this entire process (complaints the application was not widely advertised given its impact on the skyline from Port Meadow; a critical internal report not being tabled when councillors were making the fateful decision; and a naive- looking attempt to push the University into taking parts of the building down at great cost; and a subsequent contamination of neighbouring land), you wonder at what point it may begin to wise up.

Perhaps there is a valid legal reason why it can’t be definitive, but what is stopping it explaining that, and also speaking in general terms about the principle for most developments?

Instead, we have the council clamming up once more. This will lead to yet further speculation over whether it is truly in command of this process.

The damage it has done to its reputation over Castle Mill is now significant and longstanding, with a very real fear it may never recover.