A MASSIVE redevelopment of the biggest memorial to Cecil Rhodes in Oxford has been approved by councillors without a single mention of his legacy.

Rhodes House on South Parks Road, Oxford, is the headquarters of the Rhodes Trust, which administers the Rhodes Scholarship, a scheme which funds international students to come to Oxford University.

Official listed status from Historic England describes the entire site as 'a memorial to Cecil Rhodes'.

The trust, named for 19th century imperialist Cecil Rhodes, now wants to revamp its base so it can gather all its current scholars and alumni together in a single meeting hall.

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It will knock down several extensions to the original Grade-II* listed building, and rebuild them with new basements.

This will all help to make room for new offices, and accommodation, with the aim of creating a ‘world-class convening centre’.

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Design drawings of the gardens at a revamped Rhodes House. Picture: via Oxford City Council

But as Oxford City Council’s west area planning committee approved the plans today, there was no mention of the legacy of Cecil Rhodes.

The application decision follows protests calling for the removal of Cecil Rhodes’ statue from the side of Oriel College on Oxford’s High Street earlier this summer.

The Rhodes Must Fall campaign, revived this year by the Black Lives Matter movement, has previously called for the Rhodes Scholarship and the trust which funds it to review its name and history.

Two planning applications were approved by the planning committee: one covering the programme of construction works on the building, and the other giving permission to carry out work on a listed building.

Though councillors made no mention of Cecil Rhodes or the history of the trust, they did raise concerns about the effects of a new spiral staircase in Rhodes House’s rotunda, and a lack of cycle parking.

Committee member Liz Wade was worried that building a new spiral staircase through the rotunda, which is a war memorial to students who died in the First World War, would damage it.

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Design drawings for the spiral staircase at Rhodes House's rotunda. Picture: via Oxford City Council

A council officer told her that architects had looked at other places where a staircase into the basement could be built, but that the rotunda would be the ‘least harmful’ option.

There was also concern from committee members Louise Upton and Alex Hollingsworth about a lack of cycle parking.

The council has started setting requirements for buildings to have a proportionate number of cycle parking spaces, and the plans for Rhodes House fall 14 spaces short of this.

But council officers said that an exception could be made for Rhodes House because of the ‘infrequency of maximum occupancy’.

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Elizabeth Kiss, warden of Rhodes House, spoke in favour of the application, which she said would help the trust to grow its number of scholars to 325 by 2028.

Dr Kiss added that Rhodes scholars took active roles in Oxford’s community, and mentioned the Mandela Rhodes scholarship scheme, which funds African students to study in Oxford as a means of confronting the trust’s legacy.

She also said there were opportunities to 'reconcile and overcome the inequities of the past' in revamping the building.

A spokesman for the Rhodes Trust was asked whether they thought it was appropriate to continue with the application in light of recent protests about Cecil Rhodes and his legacy.

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A concept image of a new pavilion in the gardens at Rhodes House. Picture: via Oxford City Council

They declined to comment, but referred to a statement released by the trust in June after the Black Lives Matter movement was reignited by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

In that statement, the trust said: “The Rhodes Trust is steward of the world’s oldest international scholarship, the Rhodes Scholarship, based at the University of Oxford since 1903 and established through Cecil Rhodes’ will.

“Many elements of Rhodes’ original vision for the scholarships were wrong and are obsolete. We reject his vision of educating young men to carry out a civilising mission, because of the imperialist, racist and sexist assumptions underlying its notion of civilisation.

“But the qualities sought in a Rhodes Scholar - intellectual distinction combined with concern for others, energy to lead, and a focus on public service - remain as compelling as they were over a century ago.”

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The Rhodes Trust has been funding international scholarships for Oxford University students since 1902, following the wishes of Cecil Rhodes set out in his will, and funded by his estate.

Rhodes House was built in the 1920s, to act as a headquarters for the trust.

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Cecil Rhodes statue at Oriel College. Picture: Ed Nix

Rhodes alumni include former US president Bill Clinton, Australian Prime Ministers Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, and astronomer Edwin Hubble.

This summer the Rhodes Must Fall campaign has been revived by the Black Lives Matter movement, and Oxford’s other lasting tribute to Rhodes, a statue on Oriel College, is now under review.

Planning applications like the Rhodes House development cannot be refused or changed on political grounds, but are decided based on a series of criteria set out in law.