IT may be unthinkable now, but 50 years ago this month planners were considering a relief road through Oxford’s historic Christ Church Meadow.

Landscape architect Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe’s idea of a sunken road from East Oxford to St Aldate’s caused uproar.

The scrapped plan changed views on city heritage and led directly to the formation of the Oxford Civic Society.

City traffic problems have since been addressed through the ring road and park and rides.

Current Dean of Christ Church, the Very Rev Christopher Lewis, said: “Now it would be unthinkable to have a road across the meadow which is, as people know, a wonderful feature of central Oxford.

“One of the ways we have advanced is that we are more conscious of green space and more conscious of the history of particular areas.”

Civic society chairman Peter Thompson said: “The idea that the car is a good mode of transport for getting around cities is very much a 20th century notion.

“This scheme was a reflection of its time and came very close to fruition but the tide turned just in the nick of time.

“There is now a realisation that our cities are places for people to live in and for people to enjoy living in. They are not places where all those things can be sacrificed for the convenience of the private car.”

The saga began in 1960 when Oxford City Council asked the Government to conduct a public inquiry into Oxford’s traffic problems, which found a road across the meadow was “inescapable”.

Sir Geoffrey – made a knight in 1979 – was brought in and came up with the £1.7m plan for a 17.5ft deep road, which would flatten 153 houses, divert the River Cherwell and Trill Mill Stream and drive across the meadow to relieve traffic congestion in the city centre.

Oxford Preservation Trust warned of “irreparable damage” and Christ Church called the plan “repugnant and offensive”.

After a 1965 public inquiry, the scheme was postponed the following year for a further review which, in 1968, favoured a relief road further south at Eastwyke Farm, off Abingdon Road. This was approved in 1971 but later dropped.

City council executive board member for city development Colin Cook said: “The arguments we now have are about discouraging people from bringing their cars into the city and encouraging them to use public transport.

“The first park and ride was in Oxford. We have pioneered the alternative and reaped the benefits.

“If we reduced congestion too much I think people would be more enthusiastic about bringing their cars into the city and we would have more problems.”