HERITAGE groups say the size of new student accommodation blocks would have a severe impact on an historical site.

Merton College and McLaren Property have plans to build properties for 294 students in Manor Place.

But conservationists fear the buildings of three and four storeys will impact on a sensitive city centre site, which includes Holywell Cemetery, widely viewed as the ‘best small cemetery in England’.

The site, owned by the college, is also close to Magdalen Deer Park and St Catherine’s College.

Oxford Civic Society has warned that the size of the blocks would ruin the tranquillity of the cemetery as well as blocking out light and spoiling views from an important heritage site.

The development is comparable in size to Oxford University’s Castle Mill development, which sparked a bitter planning battle.

The concerns being raised about the height of the buildings and impact on a sensitive site threaten to echo objections to the student accommodation built on the edge of Port Meadow.

The student residences will not be managed or administered by Merton College. McLaren Property says it intends to submit plans to Oxford City Council next month.

Marc Lackenby, Professor of Mathematics and Tutorial Fellow at St Catherine’s College, said: “It is one of one of the most sensitive locations in the city.

“The deer park is one of Oxford’s iconic locations, and the view from the college buildings north across the park is particularly famous and beautiful.”

He said public consultation held in Merton College at the end of January did little to ease his concerns.

He said: “In my opinion, if the council was to grant permission, the public outcry against it would be similar to the opposition to the Castle Mill development.”

Oxford Civic Society chairman Peter Thompson said: “They are sacrificing this important environment in the interest of getting the buildings on the site further away from the deer park.”

Debbie Dance, director of Oxford Preservation Trust, said: “On first view of the plans, it seems they want to get a lot on to this site.”

Sietske Boeles, chairman of Oxford CPRE (Campaign To Protect Rural England) branch said: “The footprint and number of units is very similar to the Castle Mill flats.

“It is in the central conservation area and would harm heritage assets and their settings.”

Merton and McLaren Property had previously planned a legal challenge against the city council, claiming that a new social housing charge amounted to an “unauthorised housing tax” on future student accommodation schemes.

But the legal action has now been withdrawn, with the partners saying they intend to work with the council on devising an acceptable scheme.

Stuart Black, of McLaren Properties, said: “It is important for us to create a scheme which meets local needs while respecting the rich heritage of the area.”

The historic cemetery has 1,266 graves including the remains of many dons and that of Kenneth Grahame, the author of The Wind in the Willows.