Planning rules could bar Oxford business school

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The Independent Online
Oxford University's plans to use a pounds 20m donation from a Saudi entrepreneur to help build a new management school on its sports ground could be blocked by planning regulations, it emerged last night.

The chair of the city council's planning committee has said that the land set aside for the new building was marked out for recreational purposes. Several more suitable sites had been rejected by the university, and the proposal was likely to face opposition from members of the committee, she said.

The donation from Wafic Said, best known for his role in facilitating the Al-Yamamah arms deal, will be matched by a similar sum raised by the university.

The Said Business School, due to open in 1998, intends to compete with the best in the world and will take 500 students, including 150 on MBA courses. Mr Said is believed to be keen that it should be at the heart of both the city and the university.

With few green-field sites available in the centre of Oxford, the sports ground near Mansfield College was chosen as the most practical option. However, with protests on environmental and ethical grounds mounting among both staff and students, the university faces a tough battle to push its plans through.

Environmentalists have objected that the chosen site is an important "green lung" for Oxford, while some academics say management studies is not what the university does best. Others have suggested that it should not take money from a man who is involved in arms deals, even though Mr Said is not an arms dealer himself and did not receive a commission for Al-Yamamah.

The proposal will be put before the university's congregation or "parliament" in November, and, if it is approved, planning permission will be sought.

Last night Stef Spencer, planning chair for the Labour-controlled council, said the draft local plan showed the sports ground as recreational ground. The university had presented its plans as a fait accompli, she added.

"The application will be treated on its merits, but I am surprised that all the sites within that environment weren't considered, even though on balance some of them were much more suitable," she said.

A spokeswoman for the university said it intended to stick to its planned schedule.