Castle Mill is located north of Oxford railway station along Roger Dudman Way, just to the west of the railway tracks on what was formerly Cripley Meadow, south of Port Meadow. The initial buildings at the southern end of the site were completed in 2004. Accommodation is available for single people, couples, and families. Graduate students with children benefit from priority access to lower-cost accommodation, alleviating the over-stretched housing market in Central Oxford.
Facilities at Castle Mill include a common room, launderettes, bicycle racks and an outside barbecue area. The complex is supported by caretakers who live on site. The proximity of the railway causes a noise issue.
The Castle Mill Stream, a branch of the River Thames, runs to the east of the site beyond the railway tracks, hence the name. From Castle Mill there are views of the railway lines to the East, and allotments and Port Meadow to the West.
Development and controversy
In 2010, Oxford City Council capped the number of students that Oxford University and Oxford Brookes University were permitted to have in private rented housing to 3,000 each. The Council was encouraged to use planning permission as an enforcement mechanism by local lobbies such as the East Oxford Residents Forum. If either University breached the cap, the Council threatened to prevent new buildings from being occupied. As a consequence of these restrictions, the Universities looked to develop sites for student accommodation in partnership with commercial providers.
Since 2012, the Oxford University Estates Directorate, with the help of Longcross, have been developing the one hectare Castle Mill brown field site (400m × 25m), north of the existing accommodation, between the Cripley Meadow Allotments and the railway tracks, close to the southern end of Port Meadow, in order to meet the demand for graduate places.
The development has been controversial, since the four to five storey blocks overlook Port Meadow, site of a former Victorian rubbish dump but now an historic open area to the north with views of Oxford's skyline. Campaigners have warned of damage to views of Oxford. There has been an online petition and a "Save Port Meadow" campaign was established in December 2012. Concern has been raised by the Oxford Preservation Trust and the Green Party. Anger has been expressed by some members of Oxford University. The development has been likened by a critic to building a "skyscraper beside Stonehenge".
In February 2013, a local paper reported that Oxford City Council had entered negotiations with Oxford University to reduce the height of the buildings by two storeys. There was a protest and picket of Congregation, Oxford University's formal assembly of senior members, at the Sheldonian Theatre in central Oxford. The protesters including members of Oxford University, such as Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church and TV historian. Oxford University donors, such as Michael Moritz, and the University's Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Andrew Hamilton, have also been targeted with letters by the protesters, warning that the buildings "blot out the unique view of Oxford's Dreaming Spires from Port Meadow". Campaigners have claimed that the decision on the development was unlawful. The author Philip Pullman has condemned the buildings, which has featured in the national press.
In particular, views of the Grade I listed Italianate St Barnabas Church in Jericho have been affected. An internal report of 24 January 2012 at Oxford City Council stated "Photomontages show that from some parts of the meadow the view of the St Barnabas campanile will be obscured with the long unrelieved roof line cutting across in front of it." In fact, the view of the campanile is almost completely obscured (see photograph to the right).
In March 2013, it was revealed the Oxford City Council was warned about the threat to the views from Port Meadow. The Head of Heritage at the Council reported on "the harmful impact" with a conclusion that "There is no justification for this harm". The University submitted revised plans reducing the height of the blocks by 1.2m on 9 February 2012, yet the planning officer's report recommending approval of the revised scheme was dated 3 February 2012. The height change is seen by some as having a negligible effect in practice. The Vice-Chairman of the West Area Planning Committee said "I was told there had been no objections to the original scheme and as the revised scheme was designed to make it even less controversial there was no need to consult."
In April 2013, it was reported that Oxford University had removed the topmost apex of the roof in its revised plans, rather than removing a storey. Oxford University has stated that it will not reduce the height of the buildings voluntarily and have estimated the cost to do so as being £10–20 million. On 17 April, masked protesters attended an Oxford City Council meeting, where it was decided that a high-level meeting between the University's Vice-Chancellor and the Council leader was needed. Oxford City Council has warned Oxford University that compulsory measures could be taken to reduce the impact of Castle Mill. Campaigners have set up a fund to oppose the development in the High Court. The Direct of the Oxford Preservation Trust has stated "I don't think we have the guidelines in place which allow for a development like the one near Port Meadow to be properly assessed."
During May 2013, it emerged that pollution at Castle Mill had not been checked before work begin, as was required in the planning permission. The CPRE stated that a request under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the University did not provide the necessary information before work started in September 2012. When the University did eventually undertake the assessment, it was deemed adequate by the City Council officers, but a judgement of the matter by the Council itself was postponed. Later in May, it was noted by an Oxford University alumnus that he had been lobbied by the Provost of Worcester College, Professor Jonathan Bate, because the College was objecting to a modest planning proposal by Exeter College.
In June 2013, Castle Mill was one of six buildings nominated for the 2013 Carbuncle Cup, an annual award by Building Design for "the ugliest building in the United Kingdom completed in the last 12 months. It is described as "A deeply unimaginative and impoverished design which would lower the spirits whatever its setting, but on the edge of one of central England’s most important and ancient landscapes, it is an outrage."
In July 2013, an independent inquiry into the student blocks and how Oxford University was allowed to obscure historic views of Oxford was announced. The level of consultation and the relationship between Oxford city planners and Oxford University have been questioned. There have been claims the city councillors were misled about the impact of the scheme.
Two years on, the controversy continued, with several Oxford academics still in public opposition. October 2014 was the second anniversary of the issue, still raising anger from local campaigners, with a retrospective environmental impact assessment in progress.
In February 2015, almost exactly three years after Oxford City Council approved the scheme, Academics and staff who are members of the university’s Congregation – effectively its parliament – debated a binding motion to reduce the height of six of Castle Mill's eight blocks to reduce the development's visual impact. The proposal was defeated by 536 votes to 210. The University's Student Union campaigned against the motion on the grounds that it would have an adverse impact on graduate student housing and finance. A subsequent postal vote, triggered by critics of Castle Mill, rejected the proposal to reduce the height of six blocks by 1,698 to 460. In response to the two votes, Oxford University said it would now pursue its favoured option, screening the student flats with trees and new cladding at an approximate cost of £6m. 
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- Fantato, Damian (4 April 2013). "University removed tip of Port Meadow flats to get approval: Removing roof section was only change to Castle Mill scheme". The Oxford Times. p. 14.
- Fantato, Damian (11 April 2013). "Bill to lower student flats could be as high as £20m". The Oxford Times. p. 10.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Castle Mill, Oxford.|
- Save Port Meadow website
- Port Meadow Campaign on Twitter
- Protect Port Meadow from Oxford University on Facebook
- Castle Mill nominated for 2013 Oxford Preservation Trust Award