OXFORD City Council could be dragged back to the High Court if it does not force Oxford University to reduce the height of the Castle Mill student flats.

The controversial buildings were given planning permission in 2012 and finished last year, but the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said they spoil views of Oxford from Port Meadow.

The university volunteered to have an Environmental Impact Assessment completed and the report outlines three options for how the impact of the buildings may be reduced.

Residents have been invited to comment on its findings, in a seven-week consultation that will end on December 18, but the university has already ruled out reducing the height of the flats, because it would cost too much.

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Sietske Boeles

But yesterday CPRE Oxford chairwoman Sietske Boeles said: “We have discussed the findings of the assessment with our legal team and we have been advised that we have the option to go back to the High Court if we believe that the council acts unlawfully by not complying with EIA regulations.”

The city council was challenged in the High Court by the group last year, when it called for a judicial review into the original permission.

But Mr Justice Lewis ruled a review was unnecessary, because the council and university had volunteered to complete the retrospective EIA. Now the report has been published, the university has said its preferred option is to plant trees around Castle Mill and change the outside appearance of the blocks at a cost of £6m.

By comparison, the CPRE’s demand to remove a floor from six of the eight buildings, as well as sections of the roof, would cost £12m.

The university said it would also require the closure of the buildings for at least a year and require new building to replace 38 lost bedrooms.

University spokesman Stephen Rouse said: “The independent statement states clearly that Castle Mill has ‘led to beneficial social and economic effects by removing over 300 students from the housing market in the city, reducing housing pressures in Oxford.

“The report also finds these public benefits outweigh the heritage and landscape impacts of the development in planning terms.”

Oxford City Council is expected to consider the university’s proposal in the new year, after the end of the report’s consultation.

The Oxford Mail has repeatedly asked it whether or not it could legally force the university to reduce the height of the buildings, but it has refused to give a definitive answer.

Council spokesman Cho-famba Sithole said that if the west area planning committee rejected the university’s proposals they would re-enter negotiations, or the university could appeal against the decision. Yesterday Mr Sithole added: “Contrary to what CPRE allege, the council did not act unlawfully and no such finding was made by the High Court.”

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