PLANS to build student flats on the site of an old nursery off the Cowley Road have been refused by Oxford City Council.

Oriel College had wanted to build a two-storey block on the site of the empty Bartlemas Nursery, but the council's west area planning committee turned down its plans.

If the college had been successful, as many as 30 student rooms for graduates could have been built in the part two-storey building alongside a flat for a warden.

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But councillors on the planning committee were worried about the location of the new student digs, because they were too far removed from the busy Cowley Road.

This is the third time that Oriel's plans to build at the site have been refused in the last 12 years.

Oxford Mail:

In red: The location of Bartlemas Nursery, with Cowley Road to the south west. Picture: Google Maps.

Speaking against the plans, Nick Welch of the Divinity Road Residents Association, said the new building would damage the heritage of the area, and contested Oriel College's need for the extra rooms.

The nursery sits within the small Bartlemas Conservation Area, where there are special protections in place to protect the Grade II* listed Bartlemas Farm House and Bartlemas House, and Grade I listed St Bartholomews Chapel.

The site is all owned by Oriel College, and first came under the college's stewardship as a leper colony in the 14th century.

Mr Welch added: "These rooms are not needed, certainly not to the extent justified to do significant harm to the conservation area."

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But Wilf Stephenson the treasurer at Oriel College said the institution expected its graduate student numbers to grow in coming years and the new flats would help to house them in college-owned accommodation.

Mr Stephenson added Oriel was currently able to house 70 graduate students out of more than 100, but wanted to offer enough to house half of the expected 200-plus graduates it was likely to have in the near future.

Planning agent Simon Sharp of JPPC town planners added that the new buildings had been designed to be 'reflective of the agricultural and collegiate origins' of the Bartlemas Conservation Area.

Oxford Mail:

The Oxford City Council west area planning committee.

As councillors debated whether the scheme should be given the go ahead, committee member Alex Hollingsworth said a policy in the city's newly-adopted Local Plan did not allow for student accommodation which was outside of the city centre or a district shopping centre, outside of an existing site owned by one of the colleges, or outside of land set aside specially for student rooms.

Planning officer Michael Kemp argued that the policy was subject to interpretation, and said it would be justified on the Bartlemas Nursery site because it was near enough to the shops on Cowley Road.

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Lib Dem councillor Mike Gotch agreed and said the council's planning policy should be subject to interpretation.

But councillors voted to refused the new flats by a majority of five to two.

Oriel College has previously applied to build 35 flats at the site in 2008, an 31 flats in 2009.

Both were refused and lost at planning appeals.

Under another council planning policy, no more than 2,500 University of Oxford full-time taught degree students and no more than 3,500 Oxford Brookes University full-time taught degree course students can live outside of university-provided accommodation in the city.