The Castle Mill student flats are home to more than 300 Oxford University postgraduate students. Opened in September 2013, the flats provide much-needed accommodation for an important part of the University community, helping relieve pressure on the city’s hard-pressed housing market. The accommodation sits on the edge of historic Port Meadow. The University is seeking the best way to lessen the visual impact of the flats, while preserving their vital contribution to student provision and the wider interests of the city and its residents.
Should you have any queries regarding the consultation process please do not hesitate to contact the University at the following email address: email@example.com.
The University will be contacting stakeholders concerning a consultation around the options for mitigation in the near future.
9 February 2016
Decision of the West Area Planning Committee.
The WAPC met on the evening of the 9th February to decide whether or not all outstanding planning conditions had been met, and whether to support Option 1 (mitigation of impact) as the forward plan of action on the Roger Dudman Way development. This was agreed by the committee. The University is now committed to a consultation with stakeholders as to the nature of the landscaping and modifications. Nick Brown, Chair of the Estates and Buildings Committee said:
"We are pleased with the West Area Planning Committee's decision. We have learned lessons from Castle Mill and have strengthened our consultation processes for all future planning applications as a result. We now want to look forward and begin our consultation on how to improve the appearance of the buildings. Some interesting ideas were raised at the council meeting and we will in due course hold an initial discussion followed by a consultation to discuss these and other proposals on mitigating the visual impact of the buildings."
Freedom of Information requests have resulted in the attached material being released on the part of the University.
The Save Port Meadow Campaign have released the following statement:
‘We have studied all of the public statements and the internal "flysheets" issued by the University in the run up to the Congregation vote. Time after time, Wellington Square insisted the cost estimates for lowering the height of the buildings were entirely independent. The emails released this week prove they weren't. The estimates were raised by the senior University official overseeing the EIA day before its publication, because she was worried that the figures quoted by the experts were not high enough. Members of Congregation were clearly misled.’
The University has issued the following statement:
‘This is a deliberate misunderstanding of the purpose of the emails. The Environmental Statement, as published, was and remains the considered assessment of independent experts, including on the costs. During its preparation the University's focus was entirely on assisting in compiling the most comprehensive and accurate analysis possible. Some of our comments were accepted by the consultants, others not. But the University had no monopoly on this process – many others were consulted, including the Campaign itself. Rightly, the consultants made their own judgements and the University has accepted them.
‘As the Environmental Statement explicitly states, the University appointed external Quantity Surveyors to estimate the costs of the different mitigation options. It was important that the surveyors took into account all factors, including the cost of the mitigation work, lost rent, and replacing any demolished flats. The University then supplied this information to the consultants to ensure the estimates for all three options were as accurate as possible. In fact, our final submission to the consultants actually reduced the estimated cost for option 3 by £1.25 million.’
September 2015: Update
Castle Mill Environmental Statement - addendum
Oxford University has provided Oxford City Council with an addendum to the Environmental Statement on the Castle Mill student accommodation. The Environmental Statement, prepared by independent consultants, was submitted to the City Council last October, who then held a public consultation on it. The addendum, also prepared by the independent consultants, responds to requests for some further information and clarification from the City Council and some of the consultees.
The additional material provides updated cost estimates on the three options for mitigating the visual impact of Castle Mill, as described in the Environmental Statement. It puts the price tag for the most radical option, which would involve demolishing the top floor of the flats, at £30.3 million rather than £30 million. This option was heavily rejected by Congregation, the University parliament, in the spring. The University, in line with the Congregation vote, favours measures designed to balance improving the look of the buildings with preserving much-needed student accommodation. The estimated cost of this option has risen from £6 million to £6.34 million. The key finding of the original Environmental Statement, that the social and economic advantages of this option would outweigh any remaining visual impact, is unchanged by the new addendum.
The addendum takes account of a further ten months of environmental monitoring of Castle Mill for any signs of ground contamination. It confirms the original Environmental Statement’s clear conclusion that Castle Mill is not contaminated and is safe for occupation.
The City Council has now sent this addendum to recipients of the Environmental Statement to ask for responses on whether the information is now complete. The Council will then give its own response to the Environmental Statement, expected later this autumn. The University then intends to bring forward its detailed proposals for mitigating Castle Mill. These proposals will be subject to a comprehensive public consultation before submission for planning permission.
Castle Mill Environmental Impact Mitigation: Update
Following the vote of the University of Oxford's Congregation in February of this year the University is committed to a programme of mitigation measures to lessen the visual impact of the Castle Mill buildings. The University will carry out a consultation with the local community on the nature of these measures, which could include a variety of planting and climbing plants as well as cladding and painting, before any application for planning permission is submitted.
Oxford City Council has asked the University to provide more information on some aspects of the Environmental Statement. When this information is submitted, there will be a consultation on the information, managed by the City Council, before they can take any of their outstanding decisions on the development.
Consequently the University's consultation on the nature of the mitigation will be unable to get going until the late summer. We would like to avoid consulting during the summer holiday period, so this is now likely to start on or after September 2015.
We will keep you updated with progress on the various stages on this webpage, and you can follow alerts with https://twitter.com/MargaretOunsley
19 Mar: Following the vote by the Congregation of the University of Oxford against the "Option 3" proposal to remove the top floors of the graduate housing at Castle Mill, the University will hold discussions with key stakeholders to identify what would the most appropriate forms of mitigation under the terms of "Option 1"; which will need to be presented to the City Council for eventual planning permission
5 Mar: The postal ballot of Congregation has rejected the motion, with 1698 votes against and 460 votes in favour. This endorses the decision of the Congregation meeting of February 10, which rejected the motion by 536 to 210 votes.
The University has had a positive and constructive debate on the future of Castle Mill, with a clear outcome. The University remains committed to mitigating the visual impact of the buildings in a way which does not disrupt student accommodation and keeps within the £6 million cost estimated for this purpose. Many creative ideas were put forward at the Congregation debate on how best to achieve this. We hope to explore these ideas further, along with other suggestions that University members and local residents may have. The University’s Council will consider the next steps on Castle Mill at its meeting on March 16. We will share further information with the wider Oxford community after the Council meeting.
On Tuesday 10 February, Congregation debated a resolution tabled by some members, that the top floor of the Castle Mill buildings should be taken off, at some length. It was rejected it by 536 votes to 210. The decisions of a Congregation vote may be challenged in a postal ballot of all its members. It is open to supporters of the original resolution to seek such a ballot. The University Council will consider next steps on Castle Mill in due course and in the light of any postal vote. There is more information about the Congregation debate here.
An Environmental Statement on the Castle Mill accommodation was submitted to Oxford City Council. The statement was voluntarily commissioned by the University and written by independent consultants. The Council’s seven-week public consultation on issues raised in the document closed on December 19 and the Council is now considering its own response.
On December 19, the University received correspondence from University members, requesting a resolution about the accommodation be debated by Congregation in February. The request will be considered carefully and in accordance with University regulations.
The Environmental Statement
The independent Environmental Statement considers three options to mitigate the look of the eight accommodation buildings (N.B. all costings are according to the Environmental Statement):
- Option 1. Changing the cladding and colours of the buildings, combined with tree planting the length of the boundary with Port Meadow. Total cost £6,000,000
- Option 2. Option 1 plus replacing all the roofs with hip or low level roofs. Total cost £13,500,000
- Option 3. Option 1 plus lowering all roofs and removing the top floor from six of the buildings with the loss of 38 student bedrooms. Total cost £30,000,000
Options 2 and 3 would both require the complete closure of all 312 Castle Mill student bedrooms for at least one academic year.
The Environmental Statement considers the socio-economic and the visual impacts of all three options. The consultants find that options 2 and 3 would force students to find accommodation elsewhere in the highly-pressured city housing market, with harmful social and economic effects.
The Environmental Statement says: “However, for economic and social reasons anything more than the minimum required to achieve a measure of environmental improvements would have a disproportionate effect and should not be pursued on these grounds.”
Considering the visual impacts, the Environmental Statement finds that all three options would have beneficial effects and that Option 3 would achieve the greatest mitigation. However, the consultants conclude that the public benefits of Option 1 to students and the Oxford housing market outweigh the remaining visual impact.
The Environmental Statement says: “With the improvements proposed in the Design Mitigation Strategy (Option 1), the advantages of the development would outweigh any residual harm.”
The University Position
The Castle Mill flats have enabled the University to provide much-needed homes for more than 300 students, helping to relieve pressure on the city’s over-stretched housing stock and to meet the city council’s limit on the number of students in rental accommodation.
At the same time the University has continued to seek to mitigate the visual impact of the accommodation when viewed from Port Meadow. This is one of the issues addressed in the voluntary Environmental Statement (ES) prepared by independent consultants on behalf of the University, which has been presented to the city council for consideration.
In line with the findings of the independent Environmental Statement in favour of Option 1, the University is proposing additional measures to adapt the landscaping and the cladding of the new buildings to blend them in better with the surrounding area. We will plant more trees on the western boundary of the site, and we will soften the colour and textures of the buildings.
We believe this approach represents the best option to balance the environmental sensitivities with financial responsibility and the need to relieve pressure on the Oxford housing market.
The University is a charity and believes proposals to alter the height of the buildings or the structure of the roofs would require large and unacceptable expenditure of its funding.
The University intends to consult fully on its new proposals, which require a further application for planning permission to be made. The consultation process will follow the recommendations on planning applications made in the Goodstadt report last year, which the University is already implementing.
The following image, taken from the Environmental Statement, is an artist’s impression of how the development would look if Option 1 was carried out: