CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save a popular music venue have slammed a housing developer after councillors approved plans to demolish the premises and build flats.

On Monday, West Oxfordshire District Council's planning committee voted in favour of Keble Homes' application to replace The Rock Barn, in Witney Market Square, with six apartments.

The venue was leased to MuzoAkademy, which teaches music to more than 100 people of all ages and abilities, by town and district councillor David Harvey.

The application was passed with a note encouraging Keble Homes to help the music academy find alternative premises.

At Monday's meeting, Jason Hale, speaking on behalf of the Woodstock-based developer, said the company believed 'adequate facilities' were available in the town.

Members of West Oxfordshire District Council met representatives from MuzoAkademy last week to help them identify alternative premises in the expectation that the plans would be approved.

But Jon Berry, chairman of 7 C's foundation, which runs the academy, claimed Keble Homes could have done more to help them find a new home.

He said: "We're open for every single option that comes our way but I pointed out to the councillors that while we're grateful this is not their duty.

"The duty is with Keble Homes who have not even tried to address this issue.

"The developer has to show due care to the community service that currently exists."

Councillors were encouraged to approve the application by planning officer Phil Shaw at a meeting last month, but instead opted for a site visit.

That took place on Thursday, with the committee examining aspects of the sites they were unsure about, such as residential amenities.

All but one councillor voted to approve the application, with vice-chairman Duncan Enright abstaining on the grounds that no alternative location had been identified that was sufficient for MuzoAkademy's needs.

After four years in The Rock Barn, the academy will now have to look elsewhere, but Mr Berry insisted this would not be an easy task.

He said: "For around three years we've been looking for alternative premises.

"It needs to match the needs of our services.

"That includes some level of permanence for our equipment, for our setup, it needs to be somewhere where people can come and not be frightened that people will be pointing at them and they're not able to express themselves clearly."

MuzoAkademy has previously held discussions with Witney Town Council in addition to the district council, with several alternative locations across the town already mooted.

Mr Berry added: "We've never been able to get any support from the council until recent days.

"They've come to us with something which we are absolutely going to consider, but we have to weigh out what impact that has on our financial ability to continue to deliver the services that we do at the rates we do for the types of people we work with."

Last month, the academy submitted an application to make the building an asset of community value in a bid to save the venue.

This is not affected by the approval of the plans, but several members of the planning committee voiced their desire to help MuzoAkademy find a permanent home.

Toby Morris, deputy leader of West Oxfordshire District Council, and Jeanette Baker, cabinet member for communities, leisure and tourism, have spoken to MuzoAkademy and Mr Morris stressed the need to find the right venue.

He said: "It's not something that will be an overnight thing.

"At this moment in time we're just trying to find where's available.

"Generally there is a wide consensus that The Rock Barn provides a good service and it's a great thing to have in Witney.

"It's important that we support and facilitate them."

Mr Harvey has consistently urged the academy to find alternative premises, despite a flood of public support for the #savetherockbarn campaign.

The town and district councillor praised the planning committee for not being swayed by emotion.

He said: "The time has come for MuzoAkademy to find a new home.

"I'm glad to see that due process has been followed - this was a decision that was taken on planning grounds which is completely correct.

"The planning committee fulfilled its duty.

"I wish MuzoAkademy, 7C's and all their associates every success in the future in a new location."

Keble Homes was approached for comment but did not respond.