OXFORD University spent months fighting to build a Pounds 40-million business school on a green-field site that local planners had effectively ruled out before the project was even announced publicly, it has been revealed.
Plans to build the Said Business School, on the University Club's playing fields at Mansfield Road, were abandoned last week, more than five months after they were announced, because of "planning obstacles". The university and benefactor Wafic Said, who has pledged Pounds 20 million to the project, are in negotiations over an alternative site in central Oxford.
It has emerged that the university knew last March that the Mansfield Road site was problematic. City council officers told the university that the site, one of the few central recreation and green-field sites, would receive protection under the draft local plan.
Stef Spencer, chair of Oxford City Council's planning committee, said: "Planning officers had discussions with the university in March and April last year and made clear in no uncertain terms the position regarding the site. Needless to say the announcement in July came as a surprise to us."
Architect Edward Jones who, with partner Jeremy Dixon, won the competition to design the building said he was unaware of the extent of the problem.
"When one enters a project like this one assumes that people have done their homework and with such an august body as Oxford University this is doubly so," he said.
Dixon Jones remain the official architects, but the university has admitted that the partnership's original design may have to be altered or scrapped depending on the nature of an alternative site. It has also said that an alternative site could cost the university more than the Pounds 2 million notional value of Mansfield Road.
University communications director Paul Flather said that he was not aware of any specific discussions held with planning officers in March or April.
Dr Flather said: "The university did know it would not be easy to get planning permission for the site but equally we knew that with the right sort of provision in there there was a chance it would be considered."