Roger Dudman Woe

The independent review of the Castle Mill flats planning fiasco.

6 March 2014

Clive Booth represented the Society on the independent review of a controversial planning decision. He reports on the review’s findings.

We shall probably never know why the University of Oxford changed the brief for the student housing on Roger Dudman Way from the humane “creating a sense of place and community” to one that produced the egregious structures that now dominate Port Meadow. Nor do we know why the University’s pre-application consultations were so deficient as to overlook our Society and, apparently, other amenity and community groups. (At least, Turbo Ted’s Nursery was consulted!)

Nor will we know whether the councillors charged with determining the planning application would have voted differently had the recommendations of the independent review undertaken by Vincent Goodstadt already been implemented. They might have decided that the urgent need for student accommodation trumped the negative impact on a cherished landscape. We elect our councillors to take tough decisions!

Castle Mill flats from Port Meadow
Castle Mill flats from Port Meadow

The City Council commissioned the independent review following the outcry when local people finally became aware of the blocks being built. The review was published at the end of December. We had the small consolation of being included in the working party of three councillors and three community organisations appointed by the Council to oversee the review.

In relation to the key actors in the planning process, Goodstadt’s report can probably be best summed up as ‘could do better’; or, expressed in terms of academic qualifications, he was awarding ‘lower seconds’, rather than ‘firsts’. These were among the shortcomings identified in the review:

  • There was inadequate consultation on the proposal and it could have been more clearly documented.
  • The planning application documents contained errors and omissions.
  • Clear records were not kept of the documents submitted at various stages nor of some of the communications and meetings between the planning department and the applicant.
  • The visual assessment provided to the planning committee was limited.
  • The information provided to members about the design of the buildings and the height reduction offered by the applicant was not clear.
  • The report to councillors could have been clearer, particularly in weighing the balance between the need for student accommodation and the visual impact of the design.
  • The University breached two requirements relating to contamination.

The report makes six major recommendations designed to address the shortcomings. If implemented by all those to whom they are addressed, the recommendations should greatly strengthen the processes affecting planning applications for major projects in Oxford.