Andrew Hamilton, Vice Chancellor of Oxford University, has published a statement condemning a proposal to demolish the top floor of controversial student housing development, Castle Mill.
Since its conception, the site has been a focus of challenge from environmental groups such as Campaign to Protect Rural England, who claim that Castle Mill has a detrimental effect on the surrounding area, particularly Port Meadow.
A recent Environmental Impact Assessment proposed several options to combat the issues surrounding Castle Mill, the most radical of which is to entirely remove the top floor of the buildings, at an estimated cost of £30 million.
On 10th February, the Congregation will vote on a motion deciding whether to follow through with this plan.
Hamilton’s statement said: “As the resolution submitted by some members of Congregation involves a great deal of University money – an estimated £30 million – and as Council opposes it, I wanted to share with you some thoughts on the subject.
“No university, not even one as beautiful as Oxford, should put buildings before its students. To go down the route demanded by the resolution would be a serious disservice to our students, but also in my judgement to the University’s public standing”.
Some college JCRs, including St John’s, have voted to oppose the removal of the top floor. OUSU Council are also opposing the motion.
OUSU VP for Charities and Community, Ruth Meredith, commented: “We are really concerned that if the University is forced to pursue option three [to remove the top floor of Castle Mill], that 300 postgraduates will be moved into private housing, putting unnecessary pressure on rents and residents primarily in East Oxford.
“This pressure would be particularly acute due to the significant proportion of accommodation in Castle Mill which is for student families. We recognise that a very small minority of Oxford residents have legitimate grievances about the process leading to the completion of Castle Mill, but pressuring the University to spend £30 million on a project which would not address the flaws in that process is a mistake.”
A protest against the motion is also planned for 10th February outside the Sheldonian, urging students to: “join us to show that we, the students of Oxford, will not standby quietly whilst the University uses our money to remove family accommodation, push rents up, and jeopardise graduate scholarships”.
Several campaign groups have expressed their support for the removal of Castle Mill’s top floor, claiming that 98 per cent of respondents to a recent survey agreed. The Save Port Meadow Campaign have also published a response to Hamilton’s letter.
Save Port Meadow’s response said: “Campaigners recognise that there are no good choices facing members of the Congregation on February 10th. There are no bad people on any side of this debacle, no bad intent. Just exceptionally bad buildings, a bad consultation exercise, which has led to the very bad choices you face.
“The Castle Mill scandal and indeed the Save Port Meadow campaign is a problem in great part of Wellington Square’s own making. It is time the University started acting like the world-leading institution that it is, and take responsibility for properly rectifying the harm caused by these dreadful buildings”.