What happens when the Planning Permission process fails…..

Planning Permission is a subject that often evokes a negative reaction – either because of the perceived difficulty in obtaining it, or because it is granted for developments that we consider inappropriate.  Last week the architecture magazine Building Design had already received more than 20 nomination to its annual “Carbuncle Cup” for the University of Oxford’s new Castle Mill flats adjacent to Port Meadow – a development that has irredeemably devalued one of Oxford’s most famous landscape views.

This development, which is now the subject of an application for judicial review, is a perfect example of failure to consider even the most fundamental principles of landscape design.  As University of Oxford Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch wrote in his nomination letter, “Its roofline does what no other recent development on the edge of Port Meadow has achieved, violate the treeline which is the essential boundary of this rural view…..”.

Before – Oxford’s dreaming spires (photo “Protect Port meadow from Oxford University” Facebook page)

Desecrated Oxford landscape

After – skyline dominated by 4 and 5 storey flats (photo – Jonathan Bowen)

There seems to have been a trail of either error, negligence or deceit leading up to the granting of planning permission – the Council Heritage Officer’s damning report apparently never reached councillors making the decision, the University claimed “Following careful assessment it has been concluded that the development will not be visible from the majority of Port Meadow”, and the application incorrectly stated the land (former railway sidings) were not contaminated.  This last point is the crux of the application for judicial review since, had the land been identified as contaminated, an Environmental Impact Assessment would have been needed – including a full visual impact assessment.

The Council and University are clearly embarrassed by the whole affair – they even entered negotiations earlier this year to reduce the height by 2 storeys (although this, unsurprisingly, came to naught).  Whatever the final outcome, it will remain an appalling example of failure to understand how the landscape relates to our built environment.

You can read the full Building Design article here (you will have to register, but it is free).  The Protect Port Meadow from Oxford University Facebook page is here.

Footnote (1 Nov 2013): The project was runner-up in the Carbuncle Cup 2013.  Judicial review was refused by Mr Justice Lewis in the High Court in Birmingham, but the council and Oxford university did promise to carry out an environmental impact assessment – a small consolation for campaigners.

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