MP joins thousands to support Port Meadow campaign

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANicola Blackwood, the MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, has called for an independent review into how a controversial building project on Port Meadow was allowed to go ahead.

The building project by the University will include 439 units of graduate accomodation once it’s completed, and has attracted controversy for its alleged violation of a number of environmental regulations, and for not going through the proper consultancy process with local interest groups.

In total 3100 people have signed a petition against the building project.

As well as this the project has been derided by Philip Pullman as “destructive, brutal, ugly vandalism,” due to the fact that the buildings block the view of Oxford’s spires and don’t match the building style of the surrounding areas.

Blackwood said on the matter: “We are reaching the point where an independent review of the decision may be the only way we will get to the bottom of it.”

She went on to argue that “the picture just seems to get worse” with every further development regarding the Castle Mill accommodation.

Her stance has been greeted with enthusiasm by Toby Porter, a member of the Save Port Meadow campaign group, who commented: “We have been very encouraged by [Blackwood’s] statement this week.

“It is absolutely obvious that an independent enquiry should be held – nothing has been less edifying for campaigners than to see the ‘What Went Wrong’ reports glossing over all the obvious problems with the planning process, and the University then issuing statements saying how pleased they are that the reports have confirmed they have acted properly throughout.”

Campaigners have argued that the council has taken a “casual approach” to the planning and that it has an “unhealthily close link with the University” which needs to be changed.

The project has been surrounded by controversy regarding the failure of the University to properly engage in the environmental process necessary for the planning procedure and failure to consult properly with local communities.

The University has frequently claimed to have undergone the proper consultative process in order to ensure there is a ‘careful balance of interests and needs’ of citizens and students.

However the Save Port Meadow Campaign has produced research to suggest that seven out of the 12 community organisations with a mandate to safeguard Oxford’s heritage and examine planning say they have “no record” of consulting with the University, or even being invited to consult.

One signatory of the petition against the building project stated: “As a resident of Rewley Road when the consultation supposedly took place, we had no idea that there was a proposal to build these or that we could comment.

“No wonder – if we had known, we would have objected.”

This has led Porter, of the Save Port Meadow group, to allege that “the planning process appears to have been rigged to see the development approved, and to disenfranchise local residents via a derisory ‘consultation’ process.”

There have also been concerns raised that the correct environmental procedure was not followed after it was revealed that Oxford City Chief Planning Officer signed a form saying no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was needed as Port Meadow is “not a  sensitive area and mitigation can be provided”

The Campaign to Protect Rural England has lodged an application for a judicial review with the High Court against the project, which it regards as “environmental vandalism.”

Both Council and University have not responded to a request to comment.