CONTROVERSIAL plans to build almost 300 students rooms next to an historic cemetery in Oxford will be decided by a planning inspector, in what will be a battle between the city’s heritage and the acute need for housing.

The proposed Manor Place development – comprising four buildings of four and three storeys – was refused by Oxford City Council in April last year but a public inquiry to finally decide on the plans will now take place in June after Merton College appealed.

The council’s board member for planning, Alex Hollingsworth, said it would defend its original decision in the “strongest possible terms” and cite the heritage value of the site in its case. The land is next to Holywell Cemetery, where Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows, is buried.

It falls within the protected Central Conservation Area, and is bordered by the Grade II-listed Bodleian Law Library to the north, Grade I-listed St Catherine’s College to the east, Magdalen College’s

Grade II-listed boundary wall and Deer Park to the south, as well as the Grade I-listed St Cross Church and Grade II-listed former St Cross School buildings to the west.

But Merton College, along with developer McLaren Property, will argue the council’s reason for refusal was vague and that the city’s housing crisis means the development is very much needed. A detailed analysis of Oxford’s student housing market, produced by estate agents Savills, will be used in evidence at the inquiry, which will start at June 13 at the Town Hall.

Oxford Preservation Trust, which originally objected along with Oxford Civic Society, St Catherine’s College and Magdalen College among others, hoped the government inspector overseeing the inquiry would appreciate the heritage value of the area.

Trust director Debbie Dance said: “This site needs a completely different approach. It’s a very sensitive site and not one which should have a development of this size. We feel sure an independent inspector will quickly understand the special character of the place and they will visit the site to experience this themselves.”

The scheme, originally for 349 student rooms, has been amended twice in an attempt to appease objectors but was still refused by Oxford City Council’s west area planning committee last year.

The plans, however, were supported by Historic England and the Oxford Design Review Panel, a board of architects, set up in the wake of the Castle Mill student flats row, that advises the city council on planning applications.

Stuart Black, of McLaren Property, said: “We have appealed against the refusal by OCC of planning permission for this scheme which was supported by both Historic England and the Oxford Design Review Panel.

“We are looking forward to presenting the case in support of this innovative and high quality scheme to an Inspector.”

The impact of the new building on the tranquil Holywell Cemetery, burial place of Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows, has been a concern throughout.

The former British ambassador to the United States, Peter Jay, has a number of relatives commemorated in the cemetery including his great-grandfather Sir Edward Poulton.

Mr Jay said a rare place of peace and tranquility was under threat.

He said: “As an Oxford graduate I understand the University needs space and accommodation but my concern is that what is proposed does not respect the neighbouring cemetery or the area sufficiently.

“It’s about finding the right balance between heritage and housing, accommodating those who need accommodating but also preserving the special nature of the area - the balance here is not right.”

He added: “The commemoration stones for my great-grandfather and great-grandmother are attached the wall which would border the new development, it is such a special place for my family and many others - a place of peace and tranquility.”

Secretary of Friends of Holywell Cemetery, Janet Keene, said: “The building would be very high and close to the cemetery wall and may have put it into shade during the day.

“It’s a quiet place but there’s always someone there, relatives of those buried there or visitors and tourists from the city.

“A lot of people have been interested in this and have objected and we hope that those who decide will realise how special the area is.”

The public inquiry will take place at Town Hall on June 13 at 10am.