OXFORD City Council said it will have to rely on residents spying on students to stop a parking free-for-all in parts of the city.

The admission came after a Government planning inspector said it was not possible to prevent students parking away from university accommodation.

Inspector JP Sargent set out his view in a written decision turning down Oriel College’s controversial scheme to build student flats on the site of a former nursery school in the Bartlemas conservation area, off Cowley Road in East Oxford.

Objections to the plan had centred on its impact on a site with three historic buildings and the prospect of students parking cars in surrounding streets.

Mr Sargent was told the council’s parking strategy had been hit by the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency’s decision to stop helping identify cars owned by students, because of Data Protection Act rules.

Under city planning regulations, students living in purpose-built university and college accommodation cannot have a car.

The rule is a condition of new developments.

But Mr Sargent said in his report: “The DVLA has confirmed it will not now disclose information about car ownership unless connected with an offence.

“Consequently, while Oriel College may fully intend the development to be virtually car-free, I am not convinced there is any way in which that could be enforced.

“As a result, it is possible the scheme could give rise to parking demands to exacerbate the existing severe congestion.”

The city council’s head of planning, Michael Crofton-Briggs, said the DVLA decision was a blow.

But he added: “We take a different view to the inspector. The DVLA is not the only way to find students bringing in cars. Residents themselves can provide us with the necessary evidence.

“The universities and colleges can also gather information. Oxford Brookes University already employs its own wardens to do this, among other roles.”

But Richard English, who represented Divinity Road residents at the inquiry, said he believed the inspector’s views would have serious implications for university development schemes.

He said: “If tenancy agreements stopping students bringing in cars cannot be enforced, then there is a serious issue about whether the council will be able to approve future planning applications.”

Mr English expressed delight that Oriel’s second appeal for consent to develop the Bartlemas site had been refused. The college wanted to build a block of 31 rooms for graduate students.

The college’s estates bursar, Wilf Stephenson, said: “The inspector does raise important question about future development of student housing in Oxford, particularly in relation to parking.

“We are disappointed with the Bartlemas decision. It is surprising that the inspector has gone back on the previous inspector on some key points.”