Worcester’s gauntlet ignored on Exeter building plans

Exeter College is to go ahead with Jericho building plans that were subject to strong opposition from Worcester college.

The move comes after the colleges had a public disagreement last May, with Worcester’s provost Jonathan Bate describing the plans as “inappropriately garish” and said they threatened to overshadow the college’s orchard and city views.

The building will be on the old Ruskin College site on Walton Street, which dates from 1913. Oxford City Council gave outline planning permission in December last year, but final permission was given last week.

Frances Cairncross, Rector of Exeter College, said the building would provide “exceptional” facilities.

“The College and I are delighted with the news that we now have planning permission for our building on Walton Street, which will provide welcome accommodation for Exeter undergraduates and exceptional teaching, learning and social facilities in the heart of the city.

“We are in the process of negotiating with contractors. We look forward to working closely with Worcester College, which is also planning a new building in its gardens, very close to our site,” she added.

According to plans published in December, the new building will have 90 study rooms, a set of teaching rooms and also facilities for a library archive. It will be four stories high.

Worcester Provost Jonathan Bate said the college is “now working closely with Exeter.

“Worcester has always been committed to the robust debate and democratic decision-making that underlies the planning process; we are now working closely with Exeter to assist them with their project in any way we can whilst ensuring the minimum possible disruption to our good neighbours in South Jericho and to our students, especially in the lead up to exams,” he said.

The development has proven controversial since it was first proposed. Ms Cairncross said at the time that the college agreed to lower the roof line and alter the cladding of the proposed building.

“We do not feel that colleges should go out of their way to deprive undergraduates of affordable accommodation,” she said.

“We have been on our very constrained site since 1315 and are desperately short of student housing, especially for our third years and in the heart of Oxford.”

Professor Bate told Worcester students at the time that action was needed to “help us to reduce the level of intrusiveness upon the College – something for which thousands of students in future generations will thank you.”

Worcester also offered to sell four large houses – containing 24 student rooms – to Exeter, although it is understood this offer was not accepted.

National preservation group English Heritage also waded into the row, claiming last year that “the street elevations of the 1913 building should be accorded more respect than in the current submission”.

The head of the firm of architects behind the proposed submission – Alison Brookes Architects – said last year it was looking forward to starting work.

Alison Brooks said the firm is “delighted to have this opportunity to work in the heart of Oxford with Exeter College.

“The Quad’s combination of residential, academic, social and cultural spaces wihin a scholarly and urban context is every architect’s ‘ideal brief’.”

Exeter bought the site in 2011, and is aiming to turn it into a “third quad” for the college.

Parts of the original Ruskin College building will be demolished and the existing roof will be removed. Window openings will also be altered, and replacement windows and new gates will be added.

Construction work on the site can now begin.