A determined opponent of plans to convert the Oxford prison and castle site into a luxury hotel development says Oxonians worldwide should rally to the cause.

Edwin Townsend-Coles, a former chairman of the Oxford Civic Society, said there was still a chance of derailing the proposal, but warned that time was rapidly running out with the scheme due to go before city planners on May 21.

Mr Townsend-Coles, an educational consultant, described site owners Oxfordshire County Council's plans to convert the historic site into a hotel and leisure complex as "diabolical".

He claimed they had reneged on the opportunity of opening up the site to the public for the first time in decades.

Mr Townsend-Coles, a resident of Iffley village, was the first to speak out at a public meeting in Oxford Town Hall last week called by the city council to gauge reactions to the development.

A series of criticisms of details of the controversial £18m scheme - and even the choice of architect - were raised by the Oxford Civic Society, the Oxford Preservation Trust and other groups.

Mr Townsend-Coles told the 50-member audience: "It's up to us, the citizens of Oxford and Oxfordshire, to decide what happens to this site.

"The bulk of the buildings are going to be turned into a luxury-class hotel, and that is going to be for the few, not something that ordinary people will be going into."

Now he has reiterated the need for people to stop and think about the implications of the project and its future for the citizens of Oxford.

"My concern is that public places ought to be for the public, and to do what the county is going to do is absolutely diabolical," he said.

"It's no good having footpaths going through what will be like a 'no man's land'.

"The county's properties officer said they had got guarantees over the site, but it's a nonsense. Once it's gone to firms you'd need a court case to get it back.

"We're not against a hotel - we're against the kind of hotel which takes over all the buildings and inhibits ordinary people from going on to the site. If we appeal to Oxford people all over the world we could get money to organise a local trust, and that would be better than having a developer who is there for one purpose - to make money.

"The city could either reject the proposal out of hand and have it called in by the Minister, or they could refuse to have the new building at New Road so we could have the benefit of open space for people to come into."

The prison site scheme was recently praised by the Government's architectural watchdog.

Last month, CABE, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, delivered a glowing verdict on the proposals, describing them as "commendable and intelligent".

A spokesman, Paul Finch, said: "We at CABE have every confidence that this will develop into an exemplary regeneration project, which will form a model for other towns and cities looking at ways of rejuvenating previously lifeless districts, through appropriate conservation and considered new architecture."

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