COUNCILLORS won a standing ovation last night when they threw out plans to build flats on the site of an historic Oxford boatyard.

Oxford author Philip Pullman joined scores of campaigners outside Oxford Town Hall before the meeting to urge city councillors to reject the proposals for Castle Mill boatyard in Jericho.

And there was standing room only inside the assembly room as protesters made a series of pleas to protect the site.

Addressing the 150-strong audience, Mr Pullman said: "It displays an arrogance of scale. It will fundamentally alter the whole appearance of the canal in both directions.

"It's like finding a bird's nest and throwing a brick into it."

Protester Simon Norris said: "The proposal dumps two large blocks of flats on this site reminiscent of Soviet housing."

And fellow campaigner Peter Strong added: "It would be like concreting over the entrance to a valuable gold mine."

As well as 54 one and two-bedroom flats, the plans included 16 car parking spaces, a canal winding hole - where boats can turn around - a public square, a lifting bridge and a boat repair berth.

Developers Spring Residential also offered to pay £126,000 towards providing an alternative boatyard in Yarnton.

Members of Oxford City Council's central, south and west area committee unanimously rejected the plans after a two-hour debate.

And they put forward five extra reasons for refusal to the four proposed by council officers - pleasing campaigners who said this would make it harder for the plans to win through on appeal.

These included the lack of an adequate replacement boatyard, the design of the scheme, height of the buildings, damage to the setting of St Barnabas Church and concerns about flooding.

Officers had already recommended the scheme for refusal because it lacked enough affordable and energy efficient housing, did not include enough financial contributions to local services and failed to provide a legal agreement for a new community centre.

Spring Residential's representatives declined to justify the scheme to the meeting and were booed when they left the building after the decision was made.

Jericho and Osney councillor Susanna Pressel said: "It's a very special site and we need to recognise that. Jericho does not need something which is a little monolithic. Jericho deserves better."

Describing the proposed four-storey buildings as "absolutely hideous", councillor Sushila Dhall said: "They are completely out of keeping with anything that's ever been there."

And councillor Bob Price added: "There aren't any merits. The scheme doesn't respect the area and, in architectural terms, would be a real blot on the landscape."