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Universities in Oxford may have to put millions of pounds of developments on hold because protesters claim they have broken planning rules.
Oxford and Oxford Brookes Universities both signed agreements that limit the numbers of students that can live off campus – and residents have put together a census report that argues both have got their numbers wrong.
If the data is incorrect, Oxford University cannot move in to the new £500 million Radcliffe Observatory Quarter and Oxford Brookes must not open the £150 million Gipsy Lane campus.
Resident groups campaigning against the spread of student housing in the city gathered information from council housing statistics that allege both universities are in breach of their planning agreements.
The numbers of students permitted in private rentals is capped at 3,000 for each university – Oxford University says 2,688 students rent private housing, while Oxford Brookes is aiming to reduce private renters from 3,493 to below the 3,000 cap before the new campus opens.
The residents claim the number of private renters is around 7,000.
“We believe there must be hundreds if not thousands more students in the city. We simply do not know. There are so many anomalies in the figures,” said a spokesman for the campaigners.
Oxford City Council is taking up the complaint and rechecking numbers with the universities.
Deputy leader Ed Turner said: “We have clear planning policies based on the number of students living outside purpose-built accommodation for the two universities. Any question raised about either of these areas have to be taken seriously.”
He agreed planning rules prevent the universities occupying new buildings if the numbers breach agreed levels.
“I don’t want to jump to conclusions: residents have done some interesting research, and we will look at that,” he said.
Both universities stated that the figures they gave the council are right and follow an agreed counting procedure.
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