THE FIRST phase of Oxford University’s £550m scheme to redevelop the former Radcliffe Infirmary site looks set to be approved by city councillors.

Earlier this year, Oxford University, which bought the site off Woodstock Road in 2003, submitted a planning application for the first stage of what will be one of the biggest building projects in the city centre’s recent history.

This week, it emerged that council planning officers have recommended that the application be approved.

The university is seeking approval for plans covering existing listed buildings and the southern section of the site, with new buildings due to open by 2011.

The university is proposing a street for pedestrians and cyclists running from the Oxford University Press building along the RI site’s boundary with Somerville College. A northern route across the site from Cardigan Street to Woodstock Road will be provided at a later stage.

It is envisaged that the whole of the 10.5-acre site will eventually be accessible to the public during normal university working hours.

Phase one will see two large new buildings created for Somerville, providing a library and student accommodation, with an entrance into the college from the new Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, as the former hospital site will be known.

Colin Cook, the city councillor with responsibility for the city centre, said he was “not surprised” that councillors on the north area committee, the central south and west area committee, and the strategic development control committee were being advised by planning officers to approve the application.

He added: “The university went through a very long consultation process with local residents and has tried to ensure that there will be proper pedestrian and cycle access through the site.

“I don’t expect this to be a controversial application — the listed buildings have been retained.

“The university is here for the long term and is not an avaricious developer.

“The university cares about the city as much as many of the long-term residents, and this is a major scheme which could take years to complete.”

Adrian Arbib, a spokesman for the local Walton Manor Residents’Association, said Jericho residents were keen to see a route reopened between Walton Street and Woodstock Road at the earliest possible opportunity.

He added: “Local people refer to it as the ‘kebab route’ because it used to be a quick way of getting from Walton Street to the kebab van in Woodstock Road and the Royal Oak pub.

“It’s still not entirely clear what access is going to be provided for members of the public, and we have asked for confirmation in writing from the university about when and where the site is going to be open for local people.

“In the old days, residents were able to cross the Radcliffe Infirmary site and that’s not possible at the moment.”

Proposals for a large boulevard running across the site from the Radcliffe Observatory to Oxford University Press in Walton Street were dropped from the original masterplan, after architects decided smaller streets were better suited to central Oxford.

The city council’s north area committee meets on Thursday, the central area committee meeting is the following Tuesday, and the strategic development control committee meets on September 30.