AN ABANDONED plan to knock down a city centre building and replace it with a new unit has cost the taxpayer approximately £650,000.

Oxford City Council confirmed last month that it had shelved a proposal to demolish 1-5 George Street, on the corner of Cornmarket Street, and replace it with into a bigger building to bring more in rent.

It has now said the considerable spend was down to feasibility work, which eventually concluded the potential £9.5m block would be too costly to build.

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Deputy leader Ed Turner admitted there had been ‘consternation’ among some over how much money had been spent on the project.

The authority cleared the buildings of most of its tenants by the middle of 2018, including the Solutions luggage shop and a chiropodist, in preparation for the building’s possible demolition.

Oxford Mail:

An artist's impression of how the new building was supposed to look.

But it announced last month that the ASK Italian restaurant will stay in its unit at 5 George Street.

Mr Turner told councillors at a meeting on Monday night: “Following feasibility work, officers are no longer proposing to continue with the option of an office-led redevelopment because it is unviable. However, other options will now be explored, including interim uses.

“When a preferred option has been identified, a complete report will be prepared for consideration by members.”

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He added: “Officers are in the process of finalising the total cost of the feasibility work undertaken to date. The cumulative cost could amount to approximately £650,000.

“Unfortunately sometimes detailed work, rather than desktop work, is necessary to ascertain scheme viability and this was the case here.”

The council did not make an official announcement about the scheme until Monday and only gave new details after the Oxford Mail requested information on June 24.

The now-rejected plan was first mooted in late 2017 with the council initially thinking it could have brought as much as £630,000 every year with increased rents.

Oxford Mail:

Councillor Ed Turner.

But detractors said even then they worried a long payback time and relatively high cost would have meant it was not worth it.

Andrew Gant, the leader of the city council’s Liberal Democrat group, said: “I have to say I think that Ed Turner gave a good, considered answer when he said there was consternation when it became clear that they had spent this money.

“I think it’s good that he challenged that. Clearly that is a very significant amount of money without doing anything.”

But the city councillor said it had to be clear whether the authority had clear oversight of the project before the spending on it increased rapidly.

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He also asked Mr Turner why councillors had not been told or a press release sent to members and other media outlets.

Mr Turner said a press release had not been released more widely because ‘officers are still working on the project.’

Another city council project which is likely to cost several millions of pounds will see housing built on the site of the former Lucy Faithfull homeless shelter in the city centre.

Artists' impressions of how the Speedwell Street site might look were unveiled last week for the first time.

The authority initially said between 40 and 55 apartments could be built there but it is now planning for 36.

In line with council guidelines, half will be marked as affordable and the other half will be sold on the open market.

The building could be five storeys high, according to initial impressions.

The council's company, Oxford City Housing Limited, will carry out building work. In January 2018, the authority said the development, including demolition, was anticipated to cost up to £13m.