Manor Place “not a battle between heritage and housing”

What is being proposed at Manor Place does nothing to help the serious crisis in housing.

14 February 2017

This letter was written in response to an article in the Oxford Mail on 9 February 2017. The original headline was changed between the print version on 9 February and the online version of 13 February.

Dear Sir

Original headline 9 Feb 2017
Original headline 9 Feb 2017

Your front-page headline last week: “Need for new homes puts city heritage under threat” was seriously misleading, as was the statement that this is a “battle between the city’s heritage and the acute need for housing”.

What is being proposed at Manor Place is too big and too damaging to this setting, but it also does nothing whatever to help the serious crisis in housing. The development is not even intended to contribute to the accommodation requirements of Oxford University, and so, perhaps, reduce the chances of a repeat of the Castle Mill flats fiasco.

Both the University and Merton College, the site owner, have confirmed they have no intention of using the accommodation themselves and the developer concedes that this is simply a speculative commercial project, aimed at any ‘student’ seeking accommodation in Oxford.

The development thus does nothing to address the acute unaffordability of housing for the people the city really needs. It will simply serve to facilitate the expansion of language schools and ‘alternative’ educational establishments.

It is sometimes claimed that providing more student housing will free up family homes currently used as bedsits; but there is no evidence that this happens, and the numbers of applications we see for conversion of family homes into houses-in-multiple-occupation (HMOs), means we don’t believe this argument.

This site is set in one of Oxford’s most historic areas, surrounded by iconic buildings and the Holywell Cemetery. The latter is not only a precious heritage asset in its own right but a rare oasis of calm and tranquillity. Any development here should itself be of iconic design and extreme sensitivity.

Suggesting that a series of characterless barracks could be justified by their contribution to solving the affordable housing crisis is inaccurate and grossly misleading.

Peter Thompson

Chairman, Oxford Civic Society