The saga of the Castle Mill student flats that mar the historic view of the city from Port Meadow is coming to a depressing end.
To the alarm of Jericho residents, the eight blocks of flats popped up in 2012, having slipped quietly through the planning system, partly as an extension of an existing permission on the site. The Jericho Community Association is usually notified of major planning proposals nearby, but this time there was no warning.
The result was a storm of protest and a vigorous Save Port Meadow campaign, with strong support from the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE). In 2013, the development achieved national notoriety when it came a close runner-up, out of hundreds of nominations, for the Carbuncle Cup, a competition for the ugliest new building in the UK.
Following a High Court case pursued by the CPRE, Oxford University carried out a retrospective ‘environmental impact assessment’ of the new blocks - which concluded that they did indeed damage the views from Port Meadow. In 2014, the University presented three potential mitigation options. The only one which would really have addressed the problem would have meant knocking off the top storeys. To no-one’s surprise, in 2015 the University Congregation chose the cheapest option which mostly involved cosmetic changes.
The principal ones are to plant trees along the western end of the site site, to darken the gables, and to repaint the blocks a more subdued ‘mid-tone buff’ colour - a solution dismissed by Jericho resident and Save Port Meadow campaigner Toby Porter as “lipstick on a pig”.
The proposal is now working its way through the planning system: two public consultations were held in 2016 and a planning application has now been submitted and is likely to be accepted. The plans are now open for public consultation and many of the documents are accessible on the City Council website by clicking here.
You can also find the non-technical summary on Jericho Online by clicking HERE.
While the existing campaign is now over, persistent opponents of the scheme are already talking about potential demolition in 25 years time.
If you wish to comment on the proposals, you need to do so by March 15. You can submit your comments via the Council website, by clicking HERE.