Oxford launches plan to preserve historic buildings and views

Herald Series: Port Meadow pictured in June 2001 Port Meadow pictured in June 2001

THE people of Oxford are being asked for their views on what makes the city so special in an attempt to preserve its buildings and views.

For the first time, Oxford City Council is drawing up a heritage plan, listing its historic buildings so they can be saved and preserved. The project also focuses on saving iconic views of the city. Campaigners hope it will mean building work such as Oxford University’s student accommodation block – which sparked outrage for its impact on views from Port Meadow – can be stopped in future.

Campaigner Sushila Dhall said: “Port Meadow is important, not only to the people of Oxford, but it is unique and important to the nation.

“The view from the meadow wasn’t taken seriously by anybody.

“Putting together a heritage plan would be a good idea if the councillors kept to it when deciding on planning applications.”

City councillor Colin Cook, board member for city development, said: “We looked at the views at the time of the planning application for the student blocks and we took the view that it was not sufficiently damaging that we would go for refusal.”

The list of heritage assets will help give weight to current planning policies and will end up as part of the city’s local development framework. It will then become a material consideration in all planning matters and will need to be considered as part of every application. Oxford has more than 1,600 listed buildings, 17 conservation areas and 11 scheduled monuments, of which Port Meadow, in Wolvercote, is one.

The heritage plan includes a register of assets which don’t meet criteria for national designation, but still need to be protected in the eyes of local people.

A consultation has started into the historic character of central Oxford.

Council officers have drawn up reports for 44 areas across the city.

Even the historic value of the Westgate shopping centre has been looked into – although city council officers came to the conclusion the area had “poor aesthetic qualities”.

Peter Thompson, chairman of the Oxford Civic Society, said: “I don’t think we can be complacent about the conservation of our heritage.

“Without this there is a bit of an assumption that Oxford has a historic heritage at its core, but it may be difficult to put the case against specific developments.”

Property developer Martin Young has been trying to develop 29 Old High Street, in the Old Headington conservation area, but has found himself battling against conservation rules.

He said: “Heritage assets need to be protected, but I wouldn’t want to give the council any more power.” The city council is also carrying out conservation area appraisals and creating a character assessment ‘toolkit’ to allow planners to understand the impact of developments.

English Heritage, which is putting £35,000 into the scheme, said it was the first of its kind in the country.

Eventually the findings will be brought together in a new website.

M Cook added: “This is something where we have gone beyond what we are statutorily required to do. We are at the forefront of this.

“We have in Oxford the highest concentration of listed buildings outside of London. This will help decision-makers in the future with planning applications which come before them.

“This will help codify and get down on paper the stuff that may only exist in people’s heads.”

Jacquie Martinez, of the Oxford Preservation Trust, said: “This allows us to bring together policies and tools which already exist and ones which don’t. Oxford is a historic city, but it is also one that needs to continue to develop. It cannot be frozen in time.”

Comments (9)

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9:22am Tue 13 Nov 12

oxchris says...

Can you really protect a view? Whether a view is nice or not is surely subjective. Does a row of houses really detract from the beauty of Port Meadow? Surely we should be more interested in preserving the older buildings. I actually like the Westgate centre and car park and if they had been better cared for then they would not be such eyesores now.
Can you really protect a view? Whether a view is nice or not is surely subjective. Does a row of houses really detract from the beauty of Port Meadow? Surely we should be more interested in preserving the older buildings. I actually like the Westgate centre and car park and if they had been better cared for then they would not be such eyesores now. oxchris

9:59am Tue 13 Nov 12

Darkforbid says...

Oxford's what heritage? You must mean the reason this 'town' will be a backwater for ever.
Oxford's what heritage? You must mean the reason this 'town' will be a backwater for ever. Darkforbid

12:22pm Tue 13 Nov 12

Christine Hovis says...

It all depends on a subjective view of what's heritage.

In the history of Queen's College there's a description of the magnificent vandalism which saw them pull down the old college in the early 1700s and completely replace it.

We mustn't hang onto every old building and every view of every old building unless we want to transform Oxford into a theme park.
It all depends on a subjective view of what's heritage. In the history of Queen's College there's a description of the magnificent vandalism which saw them pull down the old college in the early 1700s and completely replace it. We mustn't hang onto every old building and every view of every old building unless we want to transform Oxford into a theme park. Christine Hovis

12:42pm Tue 13 Nov 12

train passenger says...

I too wonder who allowed those boats to be moored there right in the middle of Port Meadow and then for people to live on them......Let's face it, this is a picture that captures a very small part of the actual views you get when walking or cycling through Port Meadow. A much larger part of the view contains the railway line, which incidentally also produces a lot of noise, but I don't hear Ms. Dall coming out to argue it should be removed. I think that railway lines and student accommodation are both necessary parts of Oxford and the location for that bit of student housing is actually quite a clever one, although the building activities imply that one of my favourite bicycle shortcuts has been closed for some time now. Let's move forward people, not back to the 17th century (and yes, I would object to the Bridge of Sighs being brought down for new apartments, but again a misleading picture as nothing is happening there).
I too wonder who allowed those boats to be moored there right in the middle of Port Meadow and then for people to live on them......Let's face it, this is a picture that captures a very small part of the actual views you get when walking or cycling through Port Meadow. A much larger part of the view contains the railway line, which incidentally also produces a lot of noise, but I don't hear Ms. Dall coming out to argue it should be removed. I think that railway lines and student accommodation are both necessary parts of Oxford and the location for that bit of student housing is actually quite a clever one, although the building activities imply that one of my favourite bicycle shortcuts has been closed for some time now. Let's move forward people, not back to the 17th century (and yes, I would object to the Bridge of Sighs being brought down for new apartments, but again a misleading picture as nothing is happening there). train passenger

3:54pm Tue 13 Nov 12

Pavinder Msvarensy says...

Even the historic value of the Westgate shopping centre has been looked into – although city council officers came to the conclusion the area had “poor aesthetic qualities”.

With the Grey concrete Council building at the top of the ugly list.
Even the historic value of the Westgate shopping centre has been looked into – although city council officers came to the conclusion the area had “poor aesthetic qualities”. With the Grey concrete Council building at the top of the ugly list. Pavinder Msvarensy

4:26pm Tue 13 Nov 12

sparky123456 says...

surely this is pointless and restricts development. Take London - St Pauls is a classic example of a great historic building. But to others the Gherkin or the MI6 buildings have just as much merit. And what's to say what people will enjoy in another 200 years time. If we prohibit 'modern' buildings then Oxford will just be stuck as some kind of backwater whilst everyone else moves forward.
surely this is pointless and restricts development. Take London - St Pauls is a classic example of a great historic building. But to others the Gherkin or the MI6 buildings have just as much merit. And what's to say what people will enjoy in another 200 years time. If we prohibit 'modern' buildings then Oxford will just be stuck as some kind of backwater whilst everyone else moves forward. sparky123456

12:19pm Wed 14 Nov 12

mandate says...

Oxford has been restricted by this silly notion that we have some spectacular view. If the view is so awe inspiring from outside of the city, why is there not an official viewpoint that tourists can flock to, to see the view? Let's be really honest, it's not that amazing. Regardless of where you are outside of the immediate proximity of Oxford, all you see is a cluster of boring spires. It's not really the image of dreaming spires that Mathew Arnold once wrote about.
In fact, Oxford is better enjoyed by walking in the actual centre. Carfax Tower suffices nicely for those wishing to see the unkempt sprouting spires, and beyond.
Oxford has become tatty and is in desperate need of a revamp. Just look at pictures of the London skyline. A perfect combination of old and new buildings. Oxford would only benefit if the outskirts were modernised and some fresh buildings were added to it's drab skyline.
Naturally, it is important to preserve the university and college areas, but it is also important to ensure that Oxford meets the needs of it's growing population. This means new housing, business opportunities and an infrastructure than is far better than that we have today.
Oxford has been restricted by this silly notion that we have some spectacular view. If the view is so awe inspiring from outside of the city, why is there not an official viewpoint that tourists can flock to, to see the view? Let's be really honest, it's not that amazing. Regardless of where you are outside of the immediate proximity of Oxford, all you see is a cluster of boring spires. It's not really the image of dreaming spires that Mathew Arnold once wrote about. In fact, Oxford is better enjoyed by walking in the actual centre. Carfax Tower suffices nicely for those wishing to see the unkempt sprouting spires, and beyond. Oxford has become tatty and is in desperate need of a revamp. Just look at pictures of the London skyline. A perfect combination of old and new buildings. Oxford would only benefit if the outskirts were modernised and some fresh buildings were added to it's drab skyline. Naturally, it is important to preserve the university and college areas, but it is also important to ensure that Oxford meets the needs of it's growing population. This means new housing, business opportunities and an infrastructure than is far better than that we have today. mandate

12:21pm Wed 14 Nov 12

EMBOX1 says...

If you look at old photos of New Road there was a lovely old building there, pulled down to build the various (now ex) council building in the late 60s.

We should keep all buildings which are "old" and those which are more modern, nasty 60s/70s buildings (including the Westgate) can be pulled down.

I don't think you can compare Edwardian/Victorian or older architecture with concrete brutalist architecture of the 60s. However nice it seemed then, its awful now, and they without exception have aged terribly.

I'd pull down:
- Westgate & Car Park
- Macclesfield House
- County Hall
- Council offices on Cowley Rd
- Eyesore St. Johns accommodation
- Blackwells Building on Hythe Bridge St
If you look at old photos of New Road there was a lovely old building there, pulled down to build the various (now ex) council building in the late 60s. We should keep all buildings which are "old" and those which are more modern, nasty 60s/70s buildings (including the Westgate) can be pulled down. I don't think you can compare Edwardian/Victorian or older architecture with concrete brutalist architecture of the 60s. However nice it seemed then, its awful now, and they without exception have aged terribly. I'd pull down: - Westgate & Car Park - Macclesfield House - County Hall - Council offices on Cowley Rd - Eyesore St. Johns accommodation - Blackwells Building on Hythe Bridge St EMBOX1

1:33pm Wed 14 Nov 12

Andrew:Oxford says...

EMBOX1 wrote:
If you look at old photos of New Road there was a lovely old building there, pulled down to build the various (now ex) council building in the late 60s. We should keep all buildings which are "old" and those which are more modern, nasty 60s/70s buildings (including the Westgate) can be pulled down. I don't think you can compare Edwardian/Victorian or older architecture with concrete brutalist architecture of the 60s. However nice it seemed then, its awful now, and they without exception have aged terribly. I'd pull down: - Westgate & Car Park - Macclesfield House - County Hall - Council offices on Cowley Rd - Eyesore St. Johns accommodation - Blackwells Building on Hythe Bridge St
Macclesfield House is coming down next year.

Should be a headline story in the Oxford Mail/Oxford Times about it in the next few days.
[quote][p][bold]EMBOX1[/bold] wrote: If you look at old photos of New Road there was a lovely old building there, pulled down to build the various (now ex) council building in the late 60s. We should keep all buildings which are "old" and those which are more modern, nasty 60s/70s buildings (including the Westgate) can be pulled down. I don't think you can compare Edwardian/Victorian or older architecture with concrete brutalist architecture of the 60s. However nice it seemed then, its awful now, and they without exception have aged terribly. I'd pull down: - Westgate & Car Park - Macclesfield House - County Hall - Council offices on Cowley Rd - Eyesore St. Johns accommodation - Blackwells Building on Hythe Bridge St[/p][/quote]Macclesfield House is coming down next year. Should be a headline story in the Oxford Mail/Oxford Times about it in the next few days. Andrew:Oxford

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