LESSONS must be learned to ensure builders do not damage Oxford’s world famous views, campaigners warned last night.
Oxford University has been accused of blighting views of the city from Port Meadow with student accommodation blocks now under construction in Roger Dudman Way.
An online petition has been launched calling for the council to carry out a retrospective environmental impact assessment of the scheme, creating 312 flats and bedsits on unused railway land.
In three days it attracted 500 signatures.
Larry Sanders, Green Party county councillor for East Oxford, said: “The papers that the councillors would have seen consistently minimised the impact on Port Meadow.
“It is disappointing that city councillors did not look more carefully at the consequences of approval.”
Oxford Preservation Trust said lessons must be learnt from the four and five storey Castle Mill scheme to ensure other world famous views are not spoilt for want of rigorous examination.
English Heritage has now agreed to fund a study into how Oxford views can be better protected.
The City Council’s board member for city development, Colin Cook, has now warned Oxford faces losing more of its open spaces – impacting on other views – as the price of leaving the Green Belt untouched by development.
Mr Cook said: “The absence of places to build outside Oxford puts greater pressure on green spaces and brown field sites within the city boundary.”
Mr Cook warned that until there was a review making some Green Belt land available for homes, Oxford would see developers focusing on open areas in the city.
Some Green Belt development, such as south of Grenoble Road, would have less environmental impact than building on open spaces in the city, he argued.
But he added councillors had found the university’s Castle Mill application to be “reasonable and proportionate.”
The buildings on unused railway land were described as “hideous” by the chairman of Oxford Civic Society, Peter Thompson.
With building work now well underway, he called on the university to re-examine its plans.
Detailed proposals including artists’ impressions were included in the planning application.
But the Green Party expressed displeasure about the planning process, arguing the potential impact on a thousand-year-old heritage site should have warranted a full Environmental Impact Assessment.
Oxford University spokesman Matt Pickles said: “The planning application was submitted and approved in accordance with proper planning process.
“The issue of the views was dealt with at some length in the planning officer’s report and discussed by councillors at length at the public planning meeting.
“There were no challenges to this decision prior to construction starting.”
He also said trees will be planted in the hope of restoring a more natural landscape.