Residents Oppose College Plans

Proposals for a major new St Hilda’s College development near Cowley Road are already coming under scrutiny by local residents.

St Hilda’s recently submitted plans to redevelop a builder’s yard in Chapel Street into a new college campus. The plans include accommodation for 166 students, as well as an amphitheatre and gymnasium.

However, the proposed three and four storey buildings have met with opposition from local residents. With the majority of buildings in the area no more than two storeys tall, chairman of the East Oxford Residents’ Forum Elizabeth Mills said: “We all feel that it is an inappropriate use of the site to place a monolithic structure there”.

Green Party Councillor for St Clements Ward Nuala Young explained that “the residents wish for the one story to be dropped, which would bring it down to a more human, intimate scale”. She further noted her wish to “keep the balance in the area”.

The residents’ concerns reflect wider issues with the levels of student housing in Cowley. Mills said “We are all keen to see more purpose built student accommodation in Oxford but we are very opposed to it all being on the Cowley Road. We want to regain balance in the community”.

Young noted the impact of the large number of student rents on the area: “In the last four years, with all the financial speculation surrounding student properties, there hasn’t been any ordinary housing in my ward”.

However, with the new development including accommodation, the campus could free up housing currently occupied by St Hilda’s students- an advantage observed by Young: “They are supposed to release some of the terraced housing on Iffley Road”.

Nevertheless, Mills went on to register her doubts that the St Hilda’s site could be beneficial to the community: “under certain circumstances it could work well, but at the moment each college is already presiding over land in central Oxford. The St Hilda’s site looks like it will reinforce traditional stereotypes and an “ivory tower” mentality”.

According to figures from Oxford’s Academic Administration Division, St Hilda’s has experienced a 15% rise in student population for the period 2007-2010, compared to a total rise of 7% across all of the Colleges.

One St Hilda’s student considers new, affordable accommodation to be a good thing: “there is a real need for extra student accommodation, as students are routinely getting ripped off and exploited by various letting agencies around Oxford.”

This year alone, planning permission has been blocked for several developments following residents’ and traders’ campaigns. Oriel College’s Bartlemas site, which would have provided accommodation for 31 students, was blocked over what Boeles called “fears of a harmful effect on a special medieval hamlet”. Brookes’ 74-room block in Osney Lane and the redevelopment of St Clement’s car park for 141 students have also been denied planning permission.

The college principal declined to comment.

All students asked about the project declined to comment.

David Palmer