CONTROVERSIAL plans to build student housing above St Clement’s car park have won approval after a planning process spanning years.
Developers Watkin Jones changed its plans for a four-block 140-room student housing development to include a “phased approach” to building work, so the car park would stay open during the project. Some free parking would also be provided during construction.
The latest attempt to get the application past the council’s planning review committee finally succeeded at Oxford Town Hall last night.
The meeting, attended by around 20 people, remained calm despite the added tension of a police presence after a gun threat was received by the city council in connection with the application earlier this month.
After a 90-minute hearing, the proposed plans were accepted by seven votes to two following a half-hour debate by councillors. Only Lib Dem councillor Jean Fooks and Green Dick Wolff voted against.
Mrs Fooks said: “A reduction of 115 spaces to 80 is one I would consider to be significant, and there isn’t enough cycle parking. For those reasons, I cannot support this.”
But Labour councillor and board member John Tanner, who was a substitute at the meeting for usual committee member Laurence Baxter, said members had to think about what the development would be like.
He said: “I think, if this is successful and full of students from either of the two universities or another similar establishment, it will be a great asset to this city.”
After the decision, campaigners against the application expressed their bitter disappointment.
Business owner Clinton Pugh said the council was thinking too much about its own financial benefit, as it stands to gain £5m when it sells the land, and not about the effect the development will have on the area.
He told the Oxford Mail: “I’m obviously very disappointed. I don’t think it’s the best outcome for St Clement’s.
“I think the more senior members of the council were thinking about how much it helps with their budget, not the reality of the effect it will have.”
And 88-year-old Anchor Court resident Leatrice Beeson said: “When my relatives come to see me, they won’t have anywhere to park. I’m very disappointed.”
Watkin Jones spokesman Paul Gillespie said he was pleased with the outcome. He said: “I think we’re relieved and grateful for the opportunity to show we can do what we said we were going to do, and we will do everything we can to make it as comfortable for the traders as possible.”
Over the years, various different planning bids for the site met with strong opposition in the St Clement’s area, predominantly from traders, who said the loss of the car park would harm their business.
Members of the city’s Green Party also opposed the plans after a viability assessment carried out on their behalf revealed businesses in St Clement’s could lose £2m if the car park was closed for 14 months.
The development now has permission to go ahead. In its most recent submissions, Watkin Jones details a three-phase approach, with a minimum of 25 spaces still available throughout the development.
No date has been set for work to start or for it to be completed.
- May 2009: Plans for 120 student rooms on stilts above the car park and to reduce the number of spaces from 100 to 76 are approved and the Watkins Jones Group is granted a 150-year lease of the site.
- March 2011: Revised plans, which save nine extra spaces, are submitted to Oxford City Council.
- July 2011: A decision on the plans is deferred by the council’s planning committee to allow more time for consultation with the public.
- September 2011: Plans for 141 student bedrooms in three blocks above the car park are thrown out by committee five votes to four on the grounds the proposals weren’t right for the site.
- May 2012: A new application for permission for 140 rooms, 80 car parking spaces and public conveniences is submitted.
- August 14: Plans for a temporary car park off Marston Road while the work is carried out are approved.
- August 15: Planning bid is thrown out by the west area planning committee.
- September 11: Gun threat is received by reception staff at the town hall.
September 24: The Oxford Mail reports on the compromise offer for phased and free car parking from the developer