OXFORD City Council is to undertake the first review of ‘one of the country’s most important conservation areas’ in nearly 50 years.

An eight-week public consultation is set to open this Monday of the Oxford Central Conservation Area, which covers the historic core of the city.

The ‘long overdue’ appraisal aims to find out what city residents think is most important to be preserved, but could also ‘identify a site for redevelopment’ in the heart of Oxford.

Oxford Civic Society and Oxford Preservation Trust have welcomed the move, while a leader councillor has said that ‘decisions about alterations, development and demolition’ will be informed by the appraisal.

It comes after two towers were recently granted permission despite breaching the city council's height limit which is also aimed at conserving the historic appearance of the centre.

Oxford Central Conservation area was designated in 1971 but a comprehensive and holistic appraisal has not been undertaken since, because of the project’s complexity, the council say.

That authority said it would like to hear from the public about ‘what makes Oxford’s central area special’, saying the appraisal ‘seeks to describe and map’ the area and to 'inform everyone involved in the planning process’ as the council draws up its new local plan for development.

A spokesman said that the appraisal also fitted with the complementary Vision 2050, and that the assessment would allow it to make ‘informed proposals for the future management’ of the area, to ensure that its character and appearance were not harmed.

Design consultants from Alan Baxter Associates have been helping the council with a ‘huge draft document’ since April, and the public are now being asked to help ‘refine’ it.

Oxford Civic Society president Sir Clive Booth said: “We welcome this ambitious project. The central conservation area covers the large area bounded by the University Parks, Magdalen Bridge, the Thames and Walton Street. If you care about the future of our wonderful city, this is a golden opportunity to get involved – say what you think about the central area, what’s good and what needs improving.”

National legislation defines a conservation area as an area of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which makes it desirable to preserve or enhance.

A conservation area appraisal is an objective analysis of the elements which together define the area’s special architectural or historic interest.

Mr Booth continued: “It’s very broad. We are talking about the experience of people as they walk around the city. (Things to look out for are) the height of buildings and the tendency of the university to build high towers.

“Preservation is less of a concern, we have protection from listed buildings and the like. I think that the feel of some of the smaller streets – that sense we have of being a historic city – is valuable.

“The most important thing will not be what we want to preserve – it's areas which have been allowed to decline... Market Street is a good example.”

The city council's board member for planning Alex Hollingsworth added: “The centre of Oxford is one of the most important conservation areas in the country, with its concentration of buildings and history in a small space. It is also a large part of the city where people live, work and visit. It has evolved over hundreds of years and will continue to adapt in the future.

“This assessment will help to record what is special about the area and allow the council to make informed proposals for its future management, to ensure that its character and appearance are not harmed.

“Decisions about alterations, development and demolition will be informed by this appraisal.”

A second phase of the project will deal with detailed street analysis and prepare a management plan, according to the council.

Oxford Preservation Trust director Debbie Dance said her group also welcomed the appraisal and was looking forward to seeing more detail.

She went on: “It’s our understanding that the city are doing a separate appraisal that feeds into another study on high buildings and we will need to make sure that this all jigsaws together.

“The city have been talking about this for a long time… It’s only the centre that hasn’t got an appraisal.”

Oxford University said it was "unable to comment until it had seen the consultation papers".

Similar projects have already been undertaken across the city, with the North Oxford Victorian Suburb Conservation Area appraisal being launched in 2017.

To comment on the appraisal, visit the council’s website from Monday, email heritage@oxford.gov.uk or meet the project team at Oxford Town Hall during Oxford Open Doors on Saturday, September 8 and Saturday, October 20, from 10am to 2pm.

The consultation closes on Friday, October 26.