Most important debate since Thatcher vote,’ say opponents of student flats
Around 500 academics and administrative staff are expected to pack the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford this afternoon to vote on a proposal to part demolish Oxford University’s Castle Mill student flats complex.
Opponents of the scheme, which was designed by Frankham Consultancy Group, want six of the five-storey blocks at Port Meadow to be lowered by a floor in order to restore views of the Oxford skyline.
The Save Port Meadow Campaign says the flats, the runner-up in the 2013 Carbuncle Cup, have ruined Oxford’s skyline but the university says the proposal to remove a floor will be more expensive than it cost to build.
Campaign member Diarmaid MacCulloch, a professor at the university, said it was the most important vote of the university’s congregation – the institution’s sovereign body – since it voted against awarding former prime minister Margaret Thatcher an honorary degree in 1985.
He has accused the university of “frightening” students into opposing its plans, which would involve demolishing 33 flats with 38 bedrooms.
The university said demolition would cost £30 million – more than the £24 million the flats originally cost to build – with all 300 students in the entire complex having to find alternative homes for a year while work is carried out.
A spokesman for Save Port Meadow said: “One year’s intake of student residents will be temporarily inconvenienced, which is unfortunate, but that is something to be managed, not a reason to do nothing. We would support the proposal of the dons that current student residents are not evicted and work is phased to minimise disruption to them. The damage to Oxford’s heritage will be permanent and set a dreadful precedent if proper mitigation is not carried out.”
A vote is expected later this afternoon but the electorate is 4,500 meaning that the vote is likely to include a postal vote as well. The final results are due by the end of the month.