Freud’s owner claims conflicts of interest in new £30m Blavatnik School

IMG_2009Oxford City Council members are denying claims they failed to disclose conflicts of interest before taking a May vote to approve plans for a new £30m Blavatnik School of Government building.

David Freud, owner of Jericho’s Freud café, which lies next to the building site on Walton Street across from Oxford University Press, filed an appeal with the High Court requesting judicial review of the decision. In it, he says the plans were approved in a vote of 7-2, and five of the council members who voted in favor failed to disclose conflicts.

A council spokesperson said the council has reviewed Freud’s appeal and considers all of his complaints “misconceived.”

In his appeal, Freud claims three of the council members, Colin Cook, Bob Price and Ann Marie Canning, have conflicts because they receive income from work for the university.

“Mr Freud misunderstands the regulations relating to conflicts of interest in planning decisions,” Price said. “The fact that I give three or four lectures a year on courses run by the Dept of External Studies for Chinese government officials does not give me any economic or financial interest in this application.”

The council’s barrister said in a statement that a council member is only legally prohibited from taking part in a decision “when he or she has a disclosable pecuniary interest in the particular matter under consideration,” and Freud’s conflict claims do not meet that standard.

Freud goes on to say Cook is also conflicted because he is a former student of the university, as are committee members John Goddard and Oscar van Nooijin.

Sean Mills, a second year psychology student at Wadham College, said he doesn’t believe Freud’s claims constitute conflicts.

“From those things, they know Oxford better than someone who is unrelated to it,” Mills said. “I don’t see that it is necessarily bad that they are involved with the university.”

The building’s plans came under public scrutiny prior to the May vote, mostly over the school’s projected size of 9,800 square feet and height of 22.5m, roughly double the stature of surrounding architecture, and the moving of 300 to 500 bodies buried on the site that would be required to make way for the building.

Bipana Bantawa, an education DPhil student at Lincoln College, said the public often has a hard time accepting new architecture in the historic Oxford setting.

“I think people get very emotional about these things,” Bantawa said.

University spokesperson Matt Pickles said the building, which is under construction, is expected to open in 2015.