Oxford University Press unveils plans for expansion

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Oxford University Press (OUP) has put forward plans to pull down a set of Victorian workshops in order to build a new three-storey building.

OUP, the largest university press in the world, employs 1,800 people at its Jericho offices, and says that the current buildings are insufficient for its needs.

The plans presented to the city council propose demolishing the C Wing at the Press’s main site on Walton Street, with its replacement increasing total floor space by twenty per cent. One floor would be underground, meaning the new buildings would not rise above existing buildings. In addition, the D Wing would be completely refurbished.

The plans have been submitted by architects Berman Guedes Stretton, an Oxford-based firm, but no date has been set for a decision from the city council.

However, the plans for the building, which lies within the Jericho Conservation Area, provoked opposition within the community. Paul Hornby, vice chairman of Jericho Community Association (JCA), said the “modern” proposals were “not in keeping with the rest of the buildings”, and added: “We would have preferred something that reflects the character of the area.”

The Georgian Group, a national charity dedicated to “preserving Georgian buildings and gardens”, was consulted by the council about the project and has now refused consent to the plans. In a letter sent to the council, the charity points out that the building is Grade II* Listed, with parts of it dating from 1826. Comparing the architecture to that of the Ashmolean Museum, it says that “its dramatic effect in a comparatively modest and narrow street is very considerable.”

The Group believes that the new proposals “would be damaging to the setting of the historical Oxford University Press building and the character of the Conservation Area.” The letter suggests that the application runs contrary to several planning laws and adds: “The applicants need to demonstrate that the need for the desired office facilities could not be accommodated either within the existing buildings or on a less historically sensitive site.”

But Stewart Pegum, director of facilities and estates at OUP, said that plans were still in their early stages. He said: “We have been working closely with local residents, the Oxford Preservation Trust and local councillors to ensure the plans are in keeping with our surroundings, and to minimise any possible impact on residents.”

However, the Oxford Preservation Trust sought to distance themselves from the proposals. Planning and projects officer Jacquie Martinez commented: “The Trust has not been actively involved in the planning process, but merely took part in the public consultation phase of OUP’s process, seeing the plans when they were at an advanced stage.

“[We] have decided not to comment in regards to the current proposals for Oxford University Press.”

The Press also emphasised that there was no timeframe set for the works, though Pegum assured that they “will keep our employees and local residents up to date with our plans”.

If construction work were to go ahead, it would mean building sites on both sides of Walton Street. Opposite the Press buildings is the Radcliffe Observatory Development, one of the largest in the university’s history. However, Councillor Colin Cook said: “[I]t is generally accepted that some noise and disruption is reasonable during building works and I suspect residents would prefer any construction periods to coincide wherever possible to reduce the duration of the nuisance.  I have every confidence that the builders will comply with the principles set out in the Considerate Constructors protocol for this development.”

He added that “the developers have done more than most, in terms of consulting both local councillors and local residents and are to be applauded for their efforts.”

One Jericho-based student, who asked not to be named, said that the Press should be allowed to expand “in order to remain competitive”. However, he added: “Jericho is a conservation area with a certain charm about it, and as a result I believe any proposed building work in the area should be designed in a way that is sympathetic with the local character.”

He continued: “Failure to do so, and indeed failure by the Oxford City Council planning officials to force them to do so, will make Jericho’s ‘conservation area’ status seem very arbitrary.”

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