University disregards Port Meadow contamination fears

The University has disregarded warnings of contamination and moved students into the controversial new Port Meadow accommodation.

Now campaigners are claiming that the building, which is to house Lincoln postgraduates, could pose a threat to public health. Despite warnings from an expert, the University has decided to begin housing postgraduate students in the complex.

Sietske Boeles, a public health expert and supporter of the Protect Port Meadow group, has raised a number of concerns, citing surveys which allegedly highlighted several elements that would pose an unacceptable risk to public health and the environment according to the Environment Agency.

The surveys points to “elevated levels of lead” as a result of a diesel leak on the construction site, as well as tar-related chemicals highlighted by the W.H.O. for their carcinogenic properties.

Despite a contamination survey being ordered by the Council, the University commenced construction of the Port Meadow building in September last year.

The issue was raised by the Council in December, when the building was near full height. In an internal email to the University, a specialist for the Council expressed concern that there was a lack of evidence to show “that contamination has been adequately considered and addressed and that the site does not pose a risk to human health or groundwater”.

These surveys were filed in March of this year, six months after construction had begun.

Following the row, the University has announced an independent inquiry into the process of obtaining planning permission.

Critics of the £21.5 million scheme have complained that the development will obscure views of Oxford’s historic skyline from the reserve.

Opponents of the residential blocks at Port Meadow were granted a hearing at the High Court in late October in which to voice their concerns about the impact of the construction and contamination of the site.

With the new academic year about to start, the University have responded to increased pressure by appointing an independent reviewer to assess “not the decision, but how the decision was taken”.

Opponents of the development also cite a potential conflict of interest, following the discovery that the Council is in contract with the university to maintain its 350 buildings throughout the city.

Despite this, University spokesman Matt Pickles told the Oxford Mail that they are “confident both that the site is fully environmentally suitable for residential use and, after taking independent legal advice, that we are acting reasonably and responsibly in using the accommodation for its intended purpose”.

He added that all “contamination issues” had been addressed.

However, a Council representative told the Mail that the University has been advised “that it would occupy the development at its own risk and that planning conditions have not been discharged”. Helen Marshall, director of CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) Oxfordshire, said “I don’t think students will be reassured by being told their accommodation is not ‘sensitive’, and of course contamination could potentially affect neighbouring residents and allotment holders, not to mention the biodiversity of Port Meadow itself.”