​MUSIC lovers fighting to save Oxford city centre’s last gig venue from closure, have accused the building’s owner of ‘a fundamental lack of understanding’ over a document which purports to show almost 30 alternative music spaces within walking distance.

Plans have been submitted to close the upstairs venue at The Wheatsheaf, off High Street, and turn it into student flats.

The application has sparked fury among artists and music fans, who say the venue, which has played host to hundreds of local bands over 20 years, is a vital platform. Since the closure of The Cellar in 2019, the 150-capacity venue is the last medium-sized space in the centre to have a permanent stage and PA system.

Read again: Dismay at plans to close Wheatsheaf - city centre's last gig venue

More than 2,000 music lovers have joined a Save The Sheaf campaign group on Facebook, and almost 1,300 people have posted objections with the city council.

A viability assessment prepared by consultant Christie & Co for site owner Pavot Property Investments, states: “Oxford has an incredibly diverse music scene, with live music venues hosting genres ranging from roots reggae to jazz, from classical to folk – the city’s diverse population is thoroughly represented in its music offering.”

Massmatiks soundcheck at the Wheatsheaf, Oxford, in 2016. Picture: Pete Hughes.

It lists 29 alternative ‘venues’, including Oxford Town Hall, Oxford University’s Sheldonian Theatre and Jacqueline du Pre Music Building, Joe’s Bar and Grill in Summertown, The Rose & Crown pub in North Parade, City of Oxford Silver Band, Cowley Workers Club, Tap Social in Botley, lsis Farmhous in Iffley, and St Michael at the Northgate and St Giles Churches.

The report reads: “This list...demonstrates the adequate supply of live music venues within walking distance of the Wheatsheaf.”

However, campaigners have dismissed the report, saying the only place on the list which is comparable, in size or function, is the Jericho Tavern – which is listed twice.

Gig goer Verity Hoper said: “This is made to show that losing the Wheatsheaf will have no impact on our live music scene, but is as if it’s been made by a robot. It couldn’t be a more perfect demonstration of just how utterly disconnected the applicant is.

“It demonstrates serious fundamental lack of understanding of Oxford as a city. It also shows an insulting lack of care or understanding of how the culture of live music works. As a result, this application should be treated with the utter contempt it’s shown Oxford and its residents.

“This must not go through. Not only for the huge hole it will leave in our massively successful rock and pop scene at a time when our community needs it most, it will also send out a clear message that this city is in serious cultural crisis.”

Oxford band Bright Works performing at the Wheatsheaf, Oxford, in 2013. Picture: Henry Blyth.

Oxford band Bright Works performing at the Wheatsheaf, Oxford, in 2013. Picture: Henry Blyth.

Richard Catherall, who stages Gappy Tooth band nights at The Wheatsheaf, said: “The analogy that springs to mind is that it wouldn’t make sense to support the closure of a 50 head trattoria on the basis that “people can still eat at Burger King, a kebab van or Raymond Blanc’s”, because there is clearly no meaningful comparison, despite all four involving food going into people’s mouths.

"Nobody would knock down the Sheldonian on the argument 'why don't they just go to Sandy's?'. The appendix is not truly a list of peers or alternatives."

Read more: Wheatsheaf flats plan to be debated by city councillors

Artist and promoter Michael Chilcott joked: “Next time we have a national touring band and local support who we reckon would attract 100 people, we will make sure to book Oxford Town Hall or the Sheldonian Theatre.”

The applicant was approached for a comment via its agent.

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