No one should doubt that Oxford City Council is serious in its determination to get to grips with Oxford’s housing shortage, with the city’s population set to go on growing.

But its latest initiative to introduce a levy on student accommodation to help pay for affordable homes risks a new town-gown planning divide.

Student accommodation has simply become too good an option for developers, in the face of city planning rules to ensure 50 per cent of any ordinary housing development must be affordable homes.

Ensuring there is an extra cost on student accommodation — likely to be £140 per sq m — will mean “a level playing field” says the city, while no doubt bringing in hundreds of thousands of pounds for affordable housing. The council no doubt wants to hit speculative developers and benefit from the growth of language schools.

But Oxford’s two universities must surely feel that the “tax” on student accommodation is being introduced just when the city council is urging them to house more students. With residents groups in East Oxford claiming their neighbourhoods are being overwhelmed by students in multi-occupied houses, universities are under pressure to provide more and more accommodation.

Difficult though it is to believe, there is even a council policy that they will be stopped from moving into any new buildings until fewer than 3,000 of their respective students are living in city homes. Now as well as facing protests every time they want to build new halls of residence — “buildings too high, too dense, out of character” — student accommodation has just become more costly. It certainly represents a confused message.

We also must wonder about the status of this consultation, given that we are told the new levy is effectively already being applied.