Port Meadow Review hammers Council & Uni

Hulton Park

13th January 2014

A report into the planning fiasco of accommodation blocks at Port Meadow has heavily criticised Oxford City Council and Oxford University. But now what’s happening with the Environmental Impact Assessment? 

Review backs up our concerns

A review carried out by Vincent Goodstadt (past President of the Royal Town Planning Institute) into the Castle Mill development at Port Meadow has vindicated many of the things we have been saying over the last year, concluding that:

• There were errors in the University’s application and these were not picked up by the Council.
• There was inadequate consultation, well below the standards carried out for smaller developments elsewhere in Oxford.
• Assessment of Visual Impact was limited and inadequate.
• Officers did not present choices to Councillors clearly and did not provide adequate information on design
• The University breached regulations on contamination not once, but twice.

Even with the most positive spin the City can put on it, this still adds up, at the very least, to severe organisational incompetence and a lack of checks and balances in the current planning system.  We hope that it will lead to a significant change in Oxford’s planning culture and practice.

Nonetheless, we still feel that there is significant evidence of breaches in statutory regulation and possible malpractice that have yet to be investigated and we will consider taking this forward in other ways.

For now, the focus is on the retropsective Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Last Autumn, the City Council and Oxford University said in Court that they would carry out an EIA as closely as possible according to the regulations.

But Council falling at first hurdle on EIA?  

On 30 October, the University issued a Scoping Document outlining the proposed frame of reference for its Environmental Statement, explaining what it would and would not be considering as part of the work. It asked the Council for its view. According to the regulations, the Council should then have responded within five weeks, providing a Scoping Opinion that outlined whether or not it considered the University’s proposals to be adequate. This Scoping Opinion has not been issued and, following enquiries, the Council has told campaigners that it does not intend to provide it.

Uni’s Scoping Document inadequate

Helen Marshall, Director, CPRE Oxfordshire, said:

“We believe the University’s Scoping Document was hopelessly inadequate. It ignored key issues such as noise and light pollution, the location of the site immediately next to the Green Belt and the full visual impact of the development. It did not cover the off-site tree planning even though this is a key element of proposed mitigation. It didn’t even include a map of the site!

‘Other organisations, such as English Heritage, were also critical of the Scoping Document. This is the first time that English Heritage has been able to give a view on the development as the original lack of consultation, confirmed by the Council’s recent Review, meant they were previously excluded from the process. They have now expressed concern that the proposed area to be considered for the Environmental Statement is not wide enough to take into account the full impact of the development on all the nearby heritage assets and their settings.

Why haven’t the City commented?

‘We understand the City Council has passed on the comments received from third parties to the University, but it has not produced its own Scoping Opinion.

‘We can only assume they are reluctant to commit in writing to what they think the EIA should cover, as this might flush out their lack of genuine interest in correcting the impacts of this appalling development. At the moment, they can put all the blame on the University. However, as the Local Planning Authority, they have an obligation to be clear about what information they expect to be provided within the University’s forthcoming Environmental Statement.

‘This is the way to ensure that the retrospective environmental assessment is carried out properly, which is particularly important given past failings. Oxford City Council must take an active role in the future consideration of this development. It is their lack of adequate scrutiny that led to this mess in the first place.

‘Our solicitor will therefore be contacting the Council to ask them to produce a formal Scoping Opinion as quickly as possible, in line with the regulations they promised they would follow.’

See more info on our Save Port Meadow Campaign