STUDENTS have called a bid to reduce the height of the controversial Castle Mill student flats a “scandalous waste” of money.

Next month Congregation – Oxford University’s “parliament” – will vote on the proposal, put forward by television historian Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch.

Campaigners say the reduction – which would cost the university £30m overall – is the only way to reverse the impact of the Roger Dudman Way buildings on Oxford’s famous views and Port Meadow.

But Oxford University Student Union (OUSU) has called on Congregation to “do its duty” and reject the motion. In a university newsletter the union wrote: “Forcing the university to remove the top floor of the building purely in order to improve the aesthetics of North Oxford is a scandalous waste of the university’s limited discretionary capital.

“Spend the university’s money on education and on fostering a culture of research, not on amplifying the voices of a small number of North Oxford residents who happen to have the rights and privileges of members of this august body.”

The union claimed the work would force 300 students into the private rent sector and push up rates locally.

It also said a “significant” amount of family accommodation for graduates would be lost and that the money would be better spent on scholarships.

Vice-president Ruth Meredith added: “The university must accept its responsibility to the community and prevent Oxford becoming even more expensive.”

But Save Port Meadow spokeswoman Sietske Boeles said the group had “widespread support” across Oxford.

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She said: “The loss of flats and temporarily moving students into private accommodation is a small price to pay for restoring historic views and the reputation of the university.”

And Sushila Dhall, who started a petition in 2012 criticising the flats that was signed by 1,000 people, said: “They say it’s a small number of people who don’t like the flats, but I would argue they are a small number of students and are only here during term-time for two to three years. It’s important for people to see the wider picture.”

Prof MacCulloch – who is Professor of the History of the Church – put forward his proposal to Congregation after the university released an environmental impact assessment of the flats last year.

It examined how the buildings had affected views of Oxford and Port Meadow and set out three options to lessen their impact.

The university said it would choose the first and least expensive option, a change of colour to the buildings and screening using trees, at a cost of £6m.

It said the third option – reducing the flats in height - was too costly and would negatively affect Oxford’s housing market.

Congregation will debate the motion on February 10 in the Sheldonian Theatre. The meeting is not open to the public.

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