The University’s Congregation has voted against a proposal to remove the top floor of Castle Mill accommodation.
Following over two and a half hours of discussion at a meeting held on 10th February at the Sheldonian Theatre, members of the Congregation, made up of senior academic and administrative staff, voted against the proposal: 210 in favour and 536 against.
The proposal to remove the top floor of the Castle Mill buildings came following an Environmental Impact Report published last year. Those opposing noted the potential cost of carrying it out – estimated by the University to be £30 million – and the effect on the graduate students who currently live in Castle Mill.
Supporters of the proposal noted the negative effect of the Castle Mill development on the “exceptional ancient landscape” of the local area, particularly in Port Meadow.
Matthew Sherrington, of the Save Port Meadow Campaign, commented: “It is clear the University administration is scaring everyone with inflated figures of costs – and whipping staff to vote in what is not a secret ballot – which misses the point completely. This is not about costs, it is not about housing and it is not about the students.
“The University through its corner-cutting actions has caused permanent damage to Oxford’s protected heritage and this has now been fully documented in the Environmental Impact Assessment. So this is now about governance and corporate accountability. Nowhere else could you walk away from causing damage to something that is not yours – in this case heritage landscapes held by the people in common – because you didn’t like the price tag.”
Nicky Moeran, also of the Save Port Meadow Campaign, added: “OUSU’s concern is the possible short-term loss of less than 40 rooms out of a stock of 14,000. Our concern is the long-term damage Oxford University has done to a site that has been celebrated through history and is famous the world over.”
A statment on behalf of the campaign, released following the decision, added: “This has been a massive planning fiasco, and everyone knows it. In spite of the vote, the tone of the debate shows the University is pretty ashamed of itself and rightly so”.
Speakers during the meeting included Reverend Professor Dairmaid MacCulloch, who proposed the motion, and Louis Trup, OUSU President.
Comments made included: “These buildings could have graced an East German city before unification” and “a Scotsman finds it difficult to spend £30 million on anything, far less on undoing something we’ve only just done.”
Prior to the meeting, a protest in defense of Castle Mill was held outside of the Sheldonian, with protesters holding signs saying “We love Castle Mill” and “We love graduate students”.
Alongside representatives of OUSU, Oxford University Labour Club and Mansfield JCR were both present to show their support for the campaign.
Prior to the protest, Anna Bradshaw, OUSU VP for Women, commented: “We care about this a lot, because students matter. University should be about education and research – hurting Castle Mill will push those both back. The kinds of students most affected are the most vulnerable, and it’s our duty to look after them – those students who are disabled, parents or graduates.”
One anonymous graduate student added: ““Trying to find accommodation in Oxford can be a nightmare, and I am so glad that Castle Mill caters to this need. There’s also an amazing community here – people from all walks of life call this place home. There is a strong sense of community and stability here, and I think that this is true for the families at Castle Mill.”
At the time of writing, a postal vote could still be called, which would possibly amend the decision.