Oxford University's £21.5m flats in 'contamination' claim

Castle Mill (aerial shot)
Image caption The flats are built on a former railway sidings site

The opening of £21.5m Oxford University flats should not happen until contaminants in land they are built on are properly removed, campaigners say.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is set to take its case over the Castle Mill flats to the High Court.

Oxford City Council is carrying out an assessment of the development at Port Meadow after receiving legal advice.

A University of Oxford spokesman said it fully understood the council's "desire" to review the "fine print".

The series of five-storey accommodation blocks were to provide 439 units of graduate accommodation, from this month.

They overlook a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and are built on a former railway sidings site.

'Inappropriate setting'

An Environmental Scientifics Group Ltd group report completed for the developers on behalf of the university showed there were "contamination hotspots relating to hydrocarbons and elevated metals," the CPRE said.

However, in a council memo from environmental sustainability officer Emily Green on 4 September, she reported being "satisfied that contaminated materials [were] removed from site".

"A contingency plan will come into effect should levels of contaminants be elevated above WHO [World Health Organisation] drinking water values," she explained.

But, Helen Marshall, director of CPRE Oxfordshire, maintained the work on this has not been done properly and welcomed the checks that are being carried out.

"We have been saying all along that the city council failed to have proper regard to the environmental impacts of this development and this vindicates our position," she said.

"We trust [the checks are] only the first step in a course of action which will ensure proper mitigation.

"To achieve this, we believe the city council should call a halt to the development by issuing a discontinuance order and initiating a full environmental impact assessment. Until all of this is done, we think it is inappropriate that the buildings should be occupied."

The CPRE's case will be heard at the High Court, sitting in Birmingham, on 23 October.

Image caption The five-storey accommodation blocks will provide 439 units of student accommodation

The council's West Area Planning Committee was due to vote on whether all the planning conditions had been satisfactorily met on Tuesday, but the matter was postponed from the meeting agenda.

A council spokesman said: "[We] obtained external legal advice which recommended that a further technical assessment, known as a screening opinion, should be undertaken before the council considered discharge of the conditions.

"The regulations in this area are technical and complex."

A university spokesman said: "We remain in regular and constructive contact with the city authorities about the Castle Mill project.

"[They] understand the importance of deploying this much-needed purpose-built accommodation for our students, given the importance of Castle Mill in helping the university achieve its required target of having less than 3,000 students in private housing stock within the city."

The university would not comment on whether it expected to have the flats ready by the start of term.

An online petition against the development on Roger Dudman Way, has attracted more than 3,000 signatures.

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