Said in the sidings

May 16, 1997

DONS at Oxford university are expected to vote at the end of this term on a new business school site, within days of the deadline set by benefactor Wafic Said.

The favoured spot for the Pounds 40 million project is understood to be a disused railway yard next to Oxford Station, now used for cars. But the matter must still be settled with Mr Said, who had envisaged a higher profile location.

The site originally planned for the school, on Mansfield Road sports ground, had to be abandoned in January because of planning problems. Since then, another 13 sites have been considered, including other city centre car parks and the Radcliffe Infirmary, which houses the management school's existing MBA course.

Under the new plans, Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones would remain the architects but would need to introduce design changes.

Mr Jones said: "The site we looked at originally was rather suburban and rural whereas the site we are looking at now is much more urban. It is equivalent of the east end of Oxford where there has been industry and rail yards and it has the usual desolation associated with that.

"On first viewing it is not the obvious site. But it would be transformed."

Mr Said, who has pledged Pounds 20 million to build the school, has given the university until June 21 to find a suitable site or he will withdraw the offer. He is also insistent on a cast-iron legal form for the terms of his donation. If he reaches an agreement, the proposal will have to go to Congregation, Oxford's Parliament of academics, at its June 17 meeting.

Several dons have already expressed reservations about the business school scheme, which they argue could be too much in the thrall of Mr Said and other business interests. But the university appears confident of solving outstanding problems, particularly since the arrival of John Kay as the school's director. He had threatened to withdraw from the scheme unless the future of the school was decided by April.

"There is a small shortlist of sites and there is a preferred one. We have had a lot of discussions with the benefactors," said Professor Kay.

A spokesman for Mr Said said he was still awaiting a formal report from the university.

Planning permission could be granted within three months if the new site carries no difficulties.

* Kenny's Oxford view, page 18

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