Plan for £29m Oxford book depository shelved

September 18, 2008

The University of Oxford's plans for a £29 million book storage facility, which the university has argued is essential to protect the future of the Bodleian library, have been killed off by the planning inspector.

The university was refused planning permission for the proposed book depository in Osney Mead, Oxford, in November 2007 by councillors, who said that it would damage the city's skyline and would be at risk of flooding.

The university launched an appeal but, in a decision published last week, the planning inspector dismissed it. The inspector says in his report that the proposed building's "imposing height and scale" will "detract from significant views of Oxford".

"The need for a functional depository should not undermine the character of the city, which is a fundamental asset to the university," the inspector concludes.

Sarah Thomas, director of Oxford University Library Services, said the verdict was a "great disappointment" and that "tough decisions" would need to be taken.

Behind the university's push for the depository was an urgent need to refurbish the New Bodleian library, where archive storage conditions are deteriorating. In 2005, the National Archives granted the library a temporary licence on condition that improvements were made within three years.

Julian Blackwell, president of Blackwell's bookshops, donated £5 million towards the redevelopment, which Dr Thomas said would transform the New Bodleian "from a book fortress into an inviting and inspiring space for readers".

A new atrium would contain a cafe, leading into exhibition spaces. The plans have yet to be approved by the Congregation of Dons and could prove controversial. As one academic pointed out: "This is invaluable central Oxford reading space and there are plenty of cafes in Oxford already."

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