THE owner of a building at the centre of a momentum-gaining public campaign has defended his decision to have it knocked down and turned into flats.

David Harvey, town and district councillor for Witney, told the Gazette he has always been open about his decision to sell The Rock Barn to support his retirement.

A campaign to save the building was recently launched by MuzoAkademy, part of charity the 7Cs Foundation, which has provided music lessons to hundreds of people from the Market Square facility.

Mr Harvey, speaking publicly about the issue for the first time since the campaign was launched, said: “It is leased to them on a peppercorn rent but the understanding has always been that, sooner or later, it would be redeveloped.

“They have been offered the opportunity to buy the property on multiple occasions. I don’t know why they haven’t.”

When plans to knock the barn down and turn it into six flats emerged earlier this year, the group behind MuzoAkademy began a campaign to save it.

A petition, which has now amassed thousands of signatures, urges West Oxfordshire District Council to acquire the barn as a community asset or identify a suitable alternative.

Mr Harvey said he felt ‘a bit hurt’ by the group’s decision to campaign.

He continued: “If they spent as much time looking for alternative premises rather than campaigning, surely they would have found an alternative.

“Two years ago, I served them with a notice to quit and they asked me not to. I said: ‘Okay, you can stay until such a time as I sell the property or have it redeveloped’. They gave me a written undertaking to leave the property in two weeks if asked to vacate.

“I will be sorry to see them go. I don’t wish them harm at all but I’m coming to the point where I’m now in my retirement and, although I’m still active, I have to think about my pension and that is why the buildings are up for redevelopment.

“They have been given every opportunity to buy the properties on multiple occasions by me and I have urged them on numerous occasions to find alternative accommodation. I don’t understand why they haven’t been able to do so.”

He knocked back any suggestion that his council positions – which see him representing the area in which The Rock Barn is situated – created a conflict of interest.

Mr Harvey added: “Anyone who says there is a conflict of interest is wrong. I don’t own the properties - they’re owned by my pension scheme. If I attended a meeting where this was discussed I would declare an interest.

“I haven’t been asked to vote on this in any council meeting. I fully support them in finding a new home and they know that because I’ve told them on several occasions.

“I cannot conceive of how much more charitable I could have been towards them.”

MuzoAkademy – founded by Sandy, Aldie and Easy Chalmers – began as music lessons conducted out of a house.

Around five years ago the group moved to Market Square. Initially, they stored equipment there but ultimately began giving lessons out of the building, and The Rock Barn was launched.

The academy supports more than 100 students each week, enabling them to write and perform their own unique songs.

Students including people living with conditions like autism and dementia.

Spokesman Jon Berry said MuzoAkademy was happy that Mr Harvey had offered support in their search for an alternative.

He also told the Gazette his group had proposed a plan to raise the funds to buy the Rock Barn in annual increments over three years but decided that would take too long.

He went on: “The 7Cs Foundation, following expert advice, decided that pursuing Community Asset status gave us the best chance of being considered in any plans for the future of the barn.”

Mr Berry said the group anticipated complexities relating to Mr Harvey’s town council and hoped they could bypass him via the district council – which led them to petition WODC.

He continued: “Our petition makes no reference to Cllr Harvey’s plans, but instead calls upon the Council to consider acquiring the Rock Barn as a Community Asset or to find other creative solutions to identify suitable alternative accommodation for the continued provision of our services with the least impact on our users.

“We strongly believe that the Rock Barn is uniquely placed to provide rich, powerful community arts programmes for the people of West Oxfordshire. We are drawing up a 5 year plan to illustrate how the space could grow to accommodate more groups, art forms and events to best serve the local population.

“We are inviting support from anyone who can help to secure the future of this much-needed service.”

The first planning application to demolish the Rock Barn was withdrawn after being submitted to WODC. It is understood that an altered application has now been submitted.

To see the petition go to