CONTROVERSIAL plans to build a university campus on green belt land have been approved and referred to the Government despite hundreds of objections.

Proposals for the grounds of the Grade II listed Foxcombe Hall in Boars Hill, include 60 student bedrooms, a 200-seat lecture theatre, library, dining hall, cafe and gym.

Even though 303 letters of objections were received, Vale of White Horse District Council’s planning committee was recommended to approve the application.

It will now be referred to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

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Just four letters of support, or raising no objection, were received, yet 303 objection letters outlining fears including building on the green belt were sent.

Council officer Penny Silverwood said at the meeting: “Officers consider that the proposed development will cause harm to the Oxford green belt by way of inappropriateness and such harm holds substantial weight in the planning balance.

“Officers consider that the identified harm is outweighed by very special circumstances, namely the local, regional and national economic benefits, and educational benefits.”

However, parish councils were united in their opposition to the plans, with Wootton Parish Council chair Ian Bristow saying: “There is a small economic benefit but it is minimal.”

Sunningwell Parish Council vice chairman Paul Woolridge added: “We don’t think this is suitable or sustainable location for a residential campus, and we’re objecting to this application.”

Herald Series: Foxcombe Hall at Boars Hill. Picture: SavillsFoxcombe Hall at Boars Hill. Picture: Savills (Image: Picture: Savills)

A proposal to reject the application led to four councillors voting against the motion, with three in favour.

Plans were then approved as three councillors each voted for and against, with a casting vote in favour of the application made by planning committee chair Max Thompson.

In July, the plans were removed from a meeting agenda at the last minute when the application was withdrawn so that a council report could be updated and provide ‘points of clarification’.

The district council’s planning committee had been set to give the green light to proposals in July.

The former Open University site at Boars Hill was sold in 2017 to Peking University HSBC Business School (PHBS).

The new campus could see the creation of 32 full-time jobs, while the economic contribution from student expenditure per year would increase to £1.6 million per year by 2024.

In October 2020, plans to open a B&B opposite the campus were refused as it was ‘considered to cause harm to the character of the area and to the purposes of the green belt’.

That scheme was designed to house visiting academics.

The application for the new campus can be viewed on the district council’s online planning portal, using the application number P21/V1376/FUL.

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This story was written by Liam Rice, he joined the team in 2019 as a multimedia reporter.

Liam covers politics, travel and transport. He occasionally covers Oxford United.

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