Planning minister tells Oxford City Council and Oxford University they should be ashamed over Castle Mill flats

Nick Boles with the Castle Mill buildings in the background

Nick Boles with the Castle Mill buildings in the background

First published in News thisisoxfordshire: Photograph of the Author by , Council Reporter, also covering Oxford city centre. Call me on 01865 425429

A GOVERNMENT minister has said the people of Oxford are owed an apology for the handling of the controversial Castle Mill buildings.

During a visit to the city yesterday, Planning Minister Nick Boles said both Oxford City Council and the university should be “profoundly ashamed” of the design.

And he said: “Everything that I’ve heard, everything that I have gained from the independent review, suggests to me that this was a planning process in which consultation was wholly inadequate, borderline totally absent.”

He met MP for Oxford West Nicola Blackwood and campaigners at the student accommodation blocks in Port Meadow to see the impact of the
buildings on Oxford’s “dreaming spires” for himself.

He said: “Everybody understands that there is intense housing pressure in Oxford and that the university absolutely has to build more student accommodation. I believe that this is an example of exactly how not to go about doing that.”

He labelled the buildings “disgraceful” and said: “I think that this design is possibly one of the worst designs I've seen of any set of new buildings to go up in the last 10 years. Frankly, the only thing it reminds me of is the Maze Prison.

“I think the idea that this is the first view, from one of the most precious pieces of land in Oxfordshire, is something of which the university and the council should be profoundly ashamed.

“Both the university and the council have a responsibility to the community of Oxford to do something about it, to lessen the impact of these buildings and to make sure that the process in future never allows something like this to happen again.

“I think that the university and the council should be looking very hard at whether any of those can be, in some way, be mitigated or ameliorated.

“I also think that they owe an apology to the people of Jericho, the people of Wolvercote, and indeed everybody who knows Oxford, who lives in Oxford and who loves Oxford.”

Nicky Moeran, of the Save Port Meadow group, said: “Government process can work well but this is an example of how that process can fail. We are extremely grateful to Nick Boles for taking the time to come here today.”

And Nicola Blackwood, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, said: “I think that here we have got some clear breaches of consultation, of the right information going to the planning committee.

“We will now have to wait and see what happens with the environmental impact assessment which the university is carrying out.”

Also agreeing with Mr Boles’ comments was Helen Marshall, director of the Oxfordshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

She said: “I would absolutely agree with him that it is not the planning system which is at fault here, it is the rules which have not been followed.”

Mr Boles, a Conservative MP for Grantham and Stamford, visited Oxford to meet the campaigners last year but was unable to comment publically on the issue because it was subject to a judicial review which he might have been asked to rule on.

An independent report released last month, commissioned by the city council, concluded that while a series of errors led to a consultation being inadequate the authority itself did nothing wrong.

City council leader Bob Price said this meant it “wouldn’t make any sense” for the authority to apologise.

He added: “We have had an independent review by a very eminent planning expert which came up with aclear set of recommendations and found there were no areas in which the council had failed to meet its obligations.

“That things could have been done better is a matter of fact in retrospect but at the time nobody, including any amenity groups, was under any illusions that this was an issue they wanted to take up.”

Oxford University spokesman Peter Wilton said: “A full independent review has been conducted and published on the planning process by an independent reviewer. We have acted in good faith throughout and look forward to meeting with the reviewer to discuss the issues he raises and the recommendations he makes.”

The Oxford Mail asked whether the university would apologise but a spokesman ignored the question.

Comments (24)

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10:19am Fri 17 Jan 14

Sophia says...

But 'shame' is just what van nooigen is incapable of
But 'shame' is just what van nooigen is incapable of Sophia
  • Score: -53

10:59am Fri 17 Jan 14

Andrew:Oxford says...

Port Meadow is a Town Green. This means that only people who live in the "distinct district" ie Wolvercote, Jericho and close bordering areas are permitted to lawfully enjoy it...

There's only one person mentioned in this article who should ever really be on Port Meadow.
Port Meadow is a Town Green. This means that only people who live in the "distinct district" ie Wolvercote, Jericho and close bordering areas are permitted to lawfully enjoy it... There's only one person mentioned in this article who should ever really be on Port Meadow. Andrew:Oxford
  • Score: -66

11:42am Fri 17 Jan 14

train passenger says...

“Everybody understands that there is intense housing pressure in Oxford and that the university absolutely has to build more student accommodation.”
Having lived here for over ten years I have seen absolutely no evidence that this is the case. What has been done to facilitate the building of more student accommodation and relieve pressure on the housing stock for ordinary families to be able to live in Oxford? Nothing, particularly not by Nick & Nicola's Tory chaps on the county and district councils who have attempted to stop any and all building (Grenoble Road etc) simply in order to maximise house prices. What short-sightedness. I live next to the meadow and see these buildings almost daily. Not necessarily the prettiest sight, but I take great pleasure from the fact that the CPRE and the rest of the 'keep the UK in the 19th century while maximising the price of my own house' lobby have been bypassed on this occasion.
“Everybody understands that there is intense housing pressure in Oxford and that the university absolutely has to build more student accommodation.” Having lived here for over ten years I have seen absolutely no evidence that this is the case. What has been done to facilitate the building of more student accommodation and relieve pressure on the housing stock for ordinary families to be able to live in Oxford? Nothing, particularly not by Nick & Nicola's Tory chaps on the county and district councils who have attempted to stop any and all building (Grenoble Road etc) simply in order to maximise house prices. What short-sightedness. I live next to the meadow and see these buildings almost daily. Not necessarily the prettiest sight, but I take great pleasure from the fact that the CPRE and the rest of the 'keep the UK in the 19th century while maximising the price of my own house' lobby have been bypassed on this occasion. train passenger
  • Score: -88

12:10pm Fri 17 Jan 14

King Joke says...

THere is absolutely no reason whatsoever to apologise for these flats. They are high-density low-car flats which make good use of brownfield land close to a busy transport hub and within easy reach of the city centre. By providing purpose-built student accommodation they relieve pressure on residential streets to accommodate students. I regularly walk my mutts on Port Meadow, and the impact of these battleship-grey flats poking barely above the existing roof/treeline is minimal.

In short they are the right buildings in the right place and their visual impact has been grossly overstated.
THere is absolutely no reason whatsoever to apologise for these flats. They are high-density low-car flats which make good use of brownfield land close to a busy transport hub and within easy reach of the city centre. By providing purpose-built student accommodation they relieve pressure on residential streets to accommodate students. I regularly walk my mutts on Port Meadow, and the impact of these battleship-grey flats poking barely above the existing roof/treeline is minimal. In short they are the right buildings in the right place and their visual impact has been grossly overstated. King Joke
  • Score: -32

12:21pm Fri 17 Jan 14

PhilS says...

So that's all right then! Errors were made, but no one is to blame. The public of Oxford are left with these hideous barrack blocks, blighting the view for decades to come.
So that's all right then! Errors were made, but no one is to blame. The public of Oxford are left with these hideous barrack blocks, blighting the view for decades to come. PhilS
  • Score: 32

3:23pm Fri 17 Jan 14

Andrew:Oxford says...

PhilS wrote:
So that's all right then! Errors were made, but no one is to blame. The public of Oxford are left with these hideous barrack blocks, blighting the view for decades to come.
There'll be a lovely view from the blocks.

In due course, they will also hide all the "industrial pylons, poles support structure and cantenary" that will come with the railway being electrified in the next few years.
[quote][p][bold]PhilS[/bold] wrote: So that's all right then! Errors were made, but no one is to blame. The public of Oxford are left with these hideous barrack blocks, blighting the view for decades to come.[/p][/quote]There'll be a lovely view from the blocks. In due course, they will also hide all the "industrial pylons, poles support structure and cantenary" that will come with the railway being electrified in the next few years. Andrew:Oxford
  • Score: -62

3:38pm Fri 17 Jan 14

AngelicaLouisa says...

Andrew:Oxford wrote:
Port Meadow is a Town Green. This means that only people who live in the "distinct district" ie Wolvercote, Jericho and close bordering areas are permitted to lawfully enjoy it...

There's only one person mentioned in this article who should ever really be on Port Meadow.
No, it isnt, And it is were, the consequences would not be what you claim. You are an ignorant and silly man
[quote][p][bold]Andrew:Oxford[/bold] wrote: Port Meadow is a Town Green. This means that only people who live in the "distinct district" ie Wolvercote, Jericho and close bordering areas are permitted to lawfully enjoy it... There's only one person mentioned in this article who should ever really be on Port Meadow.[/p][/quote]No, it isnt, And it is were, the consequences would not be what you claim. You are an ignorant and silly man AngelicaLouisa
  • Score: 33

3:38pm Fri 17 Jan 14

AngelicaLouisa says...

Andrew:Oxford wrote:
Port Meadow is a Town Green. This means that only people who live in the "distinct district" ie Wolvercote, Jericho and close bordering areas are permitted to lawfully enjoy it...

There's only one person mentioned in this article who should ever really be on Port Meadow.
No, it isnt, And it is were, the consequences would not be what you claim. You are an ignorant and silly man
[quote][p][bold]Andrew:Oxford[/bold] wrote: Port Meadow is a Town Green. This means that only people who live in the "distinct district" ie Wolvercote, Jericho and close bordering areas are permitted to lawfully enjoy it... There's only one person mentioned in this article who should ever really be on Port Meadow.[/p][/quote]No, it isnt, And it is were, the consequences would not be what you claim. You are an ignorant and silly man AngelicaLouisa
  • Score: 32

3:47pm Fri 17 Jan 14

Stumbling Bass says...

Compare and contrast:

http://www.bbc.co.uk
/news/uk-england-dor
set-22610444
Compare and contrast: http://www.bbc.co.uk /news/uk-england-dor set-22610444 Stumbling Bass
  • Score: -23

4:44pm Fri 17 Jan 14

Captain J says...

I agree 100% with King Joke.

I really don't have even the slightest problem with this development. It's a great use of a bit of waste ground to provide much needed student housing.

Sure, the buildings themselves are fairly lacklustre, but there are far, FAR worse in Oxford. If you move a hundred meters or so away from the Walton Well Road gate into Port Meadow you can barely notice them.

I'm always hearing NIMBYs whining about student accomodation on their road, now someone comes up with a decent solution and suddenly it's the worst problem in the world that a fraction of a percent of their field of view is obscured by a dull building. If it's really a problem, plant a few tall trees. 3 or 4 should do it.

I live on Walton Well Road within 100m of this development, have no affiliation with the university or any students, and spend as much time on Port Meadow as any other Jericho resident.
I agree 100% with King Joke. I really don't have even the slightest problem with this development. It's a great use of a bit of waste ground to provide much needed student housing. Sure, the buildings themselves are fairly lacklustre, but there are far, FAR worse in Oxford. If you move a hundred meters or so away from the Walton Well Road gate into Port Meadow you can barely notice them. I'm always hearing NIMBYs whining about student accomodation on their road, now someone comes up with a decent solution and suddenly it's the worst problem in the world that a fraction of a percent of their field of view is obscured by a dull building. If it's really a problem, plant a few tall trees. 3 or 4 should do it. I live on Walton Well Road within 100m of this development, have no affiliation with the university or any students, and spend as much time on Port Meadow as any other Jericho resident. Captain J
  • Score: 10

4:55pm Fri 17 Jan 14

sarahmw says...

If the University needed this site - it would have been possible to build accommodation there , but lower, as there was alot of contaminated land that could have been built on. That way the views would be kept and the student accommodation built.
Because the accomodation is needed - does not justify poor design.
If the University needed this site - it would have been possible to build accommodation there , but lower, as there was alot of contaminated land that could have been built on. That way the views would be kept and the student accommodation built. Because the accomodation is needed - does not justify poor design. sarahmw
  • Score: 20

9:52pm Fri 17 Jan 14

Andrew:Oxford says...

Stumbling Bass wrote:
Compare and contrast:

http://www.bbc.co.uk

/news/uk-england-dor

set-22610444
Exactly.

All that the new buildings, built on a former industrial brownfield site, are hiding are the soon-to-be-electrifi
ed railway and the trees that were masking the apartments and townhouses on the other side of the railway.

Here's the front of the 6-storey apartment building you can no longer see the back of from some parts of Port Meadow.

http://goo.gl/maps/I
Wd76
[quote][p][bold]Stumbling Bass[/bold] wrote: Compare and contrast: http://www.bbc.co.uk /news/uk-england-dor set-22610444[/p][/quote]Exactly. All that the new buildings, built on a former industrial brownfield site, are hiding are the soon-to-be-electrifi ed railway and the trees that were masking the apartments and townhouses on the other side of the railway. Here's the front of the 6-storey apartment building you can no longer see the back of from some parts of Port Meadow. http://goo.gl/maps/I Wd76 Andrew:Oxford
  • Score: -60

8:44am Sat 18 Jan 14

Councillor mark cherry says...

I serve on planning a regulation that Oxfordshire county council with people how know what there on about.i come from a building back ground as I work for Cherry And Sons builders. Our jobs are sometimes hard enough with out
The planning minister and Nicola Blackwood MP Criticising planning. It's very easy to do bet she has seen loads of building sites ,and planning meetings,I personally don't think so.
More like trying to look good to the electorate, as the 2015 general election.
Draws near.As for the planning minister who unlike myself dig trenches for building work should hang his head in shame for his and predecessors changing planning formula.Thus making every planning decision across the country that bit harder.
I serve on planning a regulation that Oxfordshire county council with people how know what there on about.i come from a building back ground as I work for Cherry And Sons builders. Our jobs are sometimes hard enough with out The planning minister and Nicola Blackwood MP Criticising planning. It's very easy to do bet she has seen loads of building sites ,and planning meetings,I personally don't think so. More like trying to look good to the electorate, as the 2015 general election. Draws near.As for the planning minister who unlike myself dig trenches for building work should hang his head in shame for his and predecessors changing planning formula.Thus making every planning decision across the country that bit harder. Councillor mark cherry
  • Score: -29

1:43pm Sat 18 Jan 14

makingmoresense says...

And what about process ?
Failure to put up planning notices, next to no consultation, conveniently ticking the wrong boxes on the application form , highly misleading info about contaminated land, lying about the room numbers ie less rooms in the later application than the first one ( thus throwing the argument straight back at those who claim it's about alleviating housing pressure.)
Infact there have been so many shortcuts on this build from the energy report through to the last skim of screed - the list would be endless.

If you or i were to have put up a small extension it would have been subject to rigorous examination - yet the University sail through next to a scheduled National Monument
- Why ?

And so we are left with an over-height scar on what is described on Oxford City Council's own web site as one of the most beautiful views in England
And what about process ? Failure to put up planning notices, next to no consultation, conveniently ticking the wrong boxes on the application form , highly misleading info about contaminated land, lying about the room numbers ie less rooms in the later application than the first one ( thus throwing the argument straight back at those who claim it's about alleviating housing pressure.) Infact there have been so many shortcuts on this build from the energy report through to the last skim of screed - the list would be endless. If you or i were to have put up a small extension it would have been subject to rigorous examination - yet the University sail through next to a scheduled National Monument - Why ? And so we are left with an over-height scar on what is described on Oxford City Council's own web site as one of the most beautiful views in England makingmoresense
  • Score: 28

12:11pm Wed 22 Jan 14

mrharri says...

8 carbuncles - well said Boles - 2 storeys too high (somebody knew what they were doing...)
8 carbuncles - well said Boles - 2 storeys too high (somebody knew what they were doing...) mrharri
  • Score: -14

2:08pm Wed 22 Jan 14

King Joke says...

'yet the University sail through next to a scheduled National Monument
- Why ?'

Why? Because the visual impact is actually very limited.
'yet the University sail through next to a scheduled National Monument - Why ?' Why? Because the visual impact is actually very limited. King Joke
  • Score: -28

9:36am Thu 23 Jan 14

Whitto says...

As said elsewhere this minister is part of a government pushing through HS2 to destroy thousands of acres of countryside - what a hypocrite.
As said elsewhere this minister is part of a government pushing through HS2 to destroy thousands of acres of countryside - what a hypocrite. Whitto
  • Score: -79

1:36pm Thu 23 Jan 14

Terry Chandler says...

King Joke wrote:
THere is absolutely no reason whatsoever to apologise for these flats. They are high-density low-car flats which make good use of brownfield land close to a busy transport hub and within easy reach of the city centre. By providing purpose-built student accommodation they relieve pressure on residential streets to accommodate students. I regularly walk my mutts on Port Meadow, and the impact of these battleship-grey flats poking barely above the existing roof/treeline is minimal. In short they are the right buildings in the right place and their visual impact has been grossly overstated.
You're an idiot.
[quote][p][bold]King Joke[/bold] wrote: THere is absolutely no reason whatsoever to apologise for these flats. They are high-density low-car flats which make good use of brownfield land close to a busy transport hub and within easy reach of the city centre. By providing purpose-built student accommodation they relieve pressure on residential streets to accommodate students. I regularly walk my mutts on Port Meadow, and the impact of these battleship-grey flats poking barely above the existing roof/treeline is minimal. In short they are the right buildings in the right place and their visual impact has been grossly overstated.[/p][/quote]You're an idiot. Terry Chandler
  • Score: 29

1:40pm Thu 23 Jan 14

King Joke says...

Succinct, but unsubstantiated. Would you care to expand?
Succinct, but unsubstantiated. Would you care to expand? King Joke
  • Score: -27

1:46pm Thu 23 Jan 14

Terry Chandler says...

King Joke wrote:
Succinct, but unsubstantiated. Would you care to expand?
If you have ever seen them from port meadow you would realise how obscene they are, port meadow has been ruined for ever.
[quote][p][bold]King Joke[/bold] wrote: Succinct, but unsubstantiated. Would you care to expand?[/p][/quote]If you have ever seen them from port meadow you would realise how obscene they are, port meadow has been ruined for ever. Terry Chandler
  • Score: 29

2:48pm Thu 23 Jan 14

King Joke says...

No it has not been ruined. It has changed slightly and as someone else pointed out, if you walk more than 200 m away the flats melt away into the background. In five years' time you won't know any different.
No it has not been ruined. It has changed slightly and as someone else pointed out, if you walk more than 200 m away the flats melt away into the background. In five years' time you won't know any different. King Joke
  • Score: -25

3:40pm Thu 23 Jan 14

Whitto says...

I'm sure that many locals thought that the view was ruined of the meadows when Christchurch was built. Just back then there was no right to complain....

(Unfortunately for some it seems) Oxford is an expanding city and with that (and the increase in economic success) there is a need for more housing. Wherever these are built some nimbys will complain and a politician will jump on the vote winning bandwagon to agree with them.

They have been built, get over it and move on.
I'm sure that many locals thought that the view was ruined of the meadows when Christchurch was built. Just back then there was no right to complain.... (Unfortunately for some it seems) Oxford is an expanding city and with that (and the increase in economic success) there is a need for more housing. Wherever these are built some nimbys will complain and a politician will jump on the vote winning bandwagon to agree with them. They have been built, get over it and move on. Whitto
  • Score: -74

8:24pm Sun 2 Feb 14

McGroo says...

King Joke = troll in case you hadn't noticed (hint: it's in the name)...

The Radcliffe Camera, St Mary's Church, Tom Tower, All Saint's Church, not to mention St Barnabus Church and other buildings are mostly obscured by the Roger Dudman Way buildings from the Bailey Bridge at the start of Castle Mill Stream all the way through Godstow and up to Wolvercote - the view of Oxford as described by John Betjemen as "the best view from the west" has gone.

Protecting the land alongside Port Meadow from building has been on the political campaigner's agenda at least since the 1980s, if not longer, and now the stakes are high because there's a large amount of money to be made from building on the land including the Trap Grounds, and every other green space in between.

So it appears to be a case of "Whoops! we've accidentally built these 5 story buildings on this land - oh **** what a shame the view's gone! Oh well hopefully the hoo har will die down as people who remember the view move away or die off, let's build some more!"

A view is of no material value and it doesn't matter if it vanishes in a cloud of deception. When the neighbours turn their garden into a large brutalist construction blocking a nice pretty view without asking it's OK because it at least makes them wealthy and therefor happy.

Or am I just a cynic with no interest in progress?
King Joke = troll in case you hadn't noticed (hint: it's in the name)... The Radcliffe Camera, St Mary's Church, Tom Tower, All Saint's Church, not to mention St Barnabus Church and other buildings are mostly obscured by the Roger Dudman Way buildings from the Bailey Bridge at the start of Castle Mill Stream all the way through Godstow and up to Wolvercote - the view of Oxford as described by John Betjemen as "the best view from the west" has gone. Protecting the land alongside Port Meadow from building has been on the political campaigner's agenda at least since the 1980s, if not longer, and now the stakes are high because there's a large amount of money to be made from building on the land including the Trap Grounds, and every other green space in between. So it appears to be a case of "Whoops! we've accidentally built these 5 story buildings on this land - oh **** what a shame the view's gone! Oh well hopefully the hoo har will die down as people who remember the view move away or die off, let's build some more!" A view is of no material value and it doesn't matter if it vanishes in a cloud of deception. When the neighbours turn their garden into a large brutalist construction blocking a nice pretty view without asking it's OK because it at least makes them wealthy and therefor happy. Or am I just a cynic with no interest in progress? McGroo
  • Score: 0

8:37am Mon 3 Feb 14

King Joke says...

That's funny because when I walk on the Meadow I can still see the older buildings listed above. You do have to walk more than 200 m from Walton Well Rd bridge though.
That's funny because when I walk on the Meadow I can still see the older buildings listed above. You do have to walk more than 200 m from Walton Well Rd bridge though. King Joke
  • Score: 0

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