A CITY council policy preventing Oxford and Brookes universities moving into new buildings until they each have fewer than 3,000 students living in city homes has been branded “a total sham”.

The claim has been made by East Oxford residents, who say the city council is failing to act to stop residential areas being swamped by students.

Powers to prevent the universities occupying new buildings if they broke the cap on students residing outside university-provided accommodation are set out in the council’s core strategy plan.

And senior councillors have previously ‘talked tough’ on the issue.

Deputy council leader Ed Turner, asked earlier in the year whether the council would stop the universities moving into new developments, told the Oxford Mail: “There is not a lot of point in us having said it if we don’t mean it.

“The universities have been clear about the policies and acknowledged the reasons for them, so they have got to find a way of ensuring that they meet the requirements.”

But residents say news that Oxford University staff have already moved into Radcliffe House in the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter – despite not having met the 3,000 target – confirms that the policy is being ignored.

The council said that although the university had not met the target – latest figures showed there were 3,251 students living out – it was likely to meet the limit by the time students return at the start of October because new purpose-built accommodation would be open.

However, the council is not planning to check student numbers again until December.

A council spokesman said: “Given that the 2011-12 academic year has now ended, the key point of reference will be when students return at the start of next term.”

East Oxford Residents’ Forum yesterday issued a statement challenging the city council to stick to agreed planning policies, designed to ease student pressure on Oxford’s housing market.

The statement says: “We are deeply concerned that the city council does not seem to have the willpower to challenge Oxford University to comply with its policy with regard to the university’s occupation of the academic development at the Jericho Health Centre.

“We are asking the city council to ensure the effective implementation of the core strategy policy stating that new academic and administrative buildings can only be occupied if the university has demonstrated it has achieved the target that no more than 3,000 students live in non-university provided accommodation.

“The policy is a total sham.”

Radcliffe House was formally opened by the university on July 16 on the former Radcliffe Infirmary site in Walton Street. It will house Jericho-based GP practices. But it is also occupied by staff from the university’s Department of Primary Care Health Sciences and staff from Oxford University Press.

Deputy council leader Mr Turner was unavailable for comment, but leader Bob Price insisted this week the capping policy remained in place. He said: “The policy is there. And we operate that policy as laid down in the core strategy.”

When asked whether universities could be asked to leave new buildings if the cap were exceeded, he replied: “I believe that would be the case.”

But he added the policy might not apply to the Jericho Health Centre building because it was replacing existing accommodation.

University spokesman Maria Coyle said: “The collegiate university is committed to providing accommodation for as many students as possible.

“Since December 2010, when the student number was first agreed with the council, the university has either already provided or started to build an additional 550 new units to accommodate its students.”

A spokesman for Oxford Brookes, said: “We have 3,686 students in private rented accommodation. We are aiming to meet the 3,000 cap before autumn 2013, when the new library and teaching building at Headington is completed.”