In a hearing this week Oriel College officials have appealed against the city council’s decision to prevent them building student accommodation in the medieval hamlet of Bartlemas.
Despite changes to the original plans local residents and Council members continued to oppose the development during the hearing.
Oriel officials and the planning inspector were faced with what Residents’ Association member Elizabeth Mills labelled “robust objections” over the appropriateness of the building itself in a conservation area and the impact on the neighbouring community.
The College first submitted plans for the developments on the site of an old nursery two years ago. The council rejected them and a subsequent appeal was defeated.
Oriel officials now claim they have made sufficient changes to the building design to warrant a more positive decision.
College Treasurer Wilf Stephenson said: “The revised proposals which were the subject of the hearing have addressed all of the concerns of the planning inspector who turned down the previous application.”
Green Councillor Nuala Young disagreed: “They haven’t really changed what they were going to do originally.”
She said that whilst the council had initially been willing to negotiate on the use of the land by Oriel College, the architect’s designs are completely incompatible with the “sense of rural isolation which makes the hamlet so precious.”
Concerns over the style of the building are also felt by the local residents, according to Elizabeth Mills of the Divinity Road Area Residents’ Association. The principal issues in this area, she said, have been the scale of the three-storey building which is not in keeping with the quaint nature of the site. She said the style of the proposed building is “utterly inappropriate”, with what Young describes as a “weird roofline”, conflicting with the local community’s interests in conserving the area.
Simon Rice, a visitor to the medieval chapel and almshouse, said: “The whole point of this hamlet is its seclusion in the middle of a student city. Having student halls here would really be an intrusion.”
Another of Mills’ criticisms of the proposed project is that of the Council and the University’s “inability to control the use of cars in student residences”. Young agreed that Oriel’s application could have “unintended consequences, for example if they were to sell the site on, for example to Brookes University who have caused such trouble in the area with Sinnet Court.”
In disagreement, Stephenson insisted: “As this development will be for graduate students (and possibly a few junior fellows), the concerns about the presence of more students are unfounded, as substantial measures have been taken to address worries about noise, light pollution and loss of privacy.”
The local residents are, according to Mills, “very supportive of the concept of developing the site”, which is a medieval residence for lepers, but wish for a project that will be of use to the local community. “There used to be a nursery there, and we are still in desperate need of a nursery”.
Young, too, said she did not see the particular need for Oriel’s proposed project in Bartlemas. “They already provide very well for their students”, she said, insisting that the possibility of building on Rectory Road would be of much more significance to the College as students would be closer to the main site. Bartlemas would be left as a “really valuable resource for future generations”.
According to Stephenson, Oriel’s own research demonstrates the need for 50 more units in order for all students who want it to have accommodation.
The results of the appeal, which took place in the Town Hall on Tuesday 15th February, will be released within a month.