Bodleian library plan rejected

November 23, 2007

Oxford University's controversial plan for a giant book storage facility was dealt a severe blow this week when city councillors refused it planning permission, writes Melanie Newman. The blueprint for the £29 million depository, planned for Osney Mead near the city, was rejected because of its impact on the skyline and flooding risk.

The university said the Bodleian Library would soon be unable to house its expanding collections, which require three miles of new shelving every year.

"An ever-increasing proportion of the library's budget will be swallowed in keeping the collections in inaccessible rented storage," a spokesman said.

Sarah Thomas, the Bodleian's librarian and director of university library services, said the refusal would have "serious consequences" for readers and the library's future, but that it was too early to discuss an appeal.

English Heritage is among the bodies refusing to back the proposal.

A university display in the Bodleian claimed that English Heritage had "advised Oxford City Council to approve the planning application" and that it "now supports the scheme".

But in a letter to the council sent in September, English Heritage said that while it was not lodging an objection, "we do not 'support' the application". The council should be satisfied that consideration of alternative sites had been "rigorously explored", it said.

In a letter published in The Oxford Times on October 26, Ms Thomas wrote: "In regard to alternative sites, the university has been looking at different options for two and a half years, and Osney Mead is by far the best available."

Gill Evans, professor of history at Cambridge and an Oxford resident, said: "I have made requests under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the documentary record of these alleged searches. The university states that it has no records whatsoever except a bare list produced by its land agent early in 2005."

She said: "The land agent's document disclosed to me indicates alternative sites that could be suitable and despite Sarah Thomas's published reassurance, these were clearly not pursued."

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