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Michael Grace quoted in Times article regarding the potential difficulties of removing the statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oriel College, Oxford

11 Jan 2016

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Rhodes statue is protected by planning rules

Any attempts to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oriel College, Oxford, will be blocked by planning regulations, according to heritage experts.

Strict planning laws and the property's grade II* listed status mean that the college would struggle to gain approval to remove the statue, it is claimed.  

Legal requirements state that decisions "must have special regard to the desirability of preserving the building" including "features of special architectural or historic interest which it possesses". Oriel is to begin a six-month "listening exercise" after student protesters argued that the 19th century imperialist did not represent the "inclusive culture" of the university, but experts say removing the statue would be unlikely to receive approval from the city council or Historic England.

Julian Munby, of Oxford Archaeology, said that the statue was an integral part of the design of the building, adding: "I don't see why Historic England would agree to it." Although Historic England does not have the final say, it would be consulted and Mr Munby said it would be unusual to ignore its advice. "You couldn't just get a crane and pull it off," he said.

If the removal were rejected by the council, the college could be forced to appeal to the secretary of state, a potentially costly move. Mr Munby said the main cost would be to their reputation but lawyers suggested that legal fees at this level would start at £50,000 and could easily hit six figures.

Michael Grace, of Collyer Bristow solicitors, said the university would be likely to hire a big city law firm and on top of legal fees would need to consult expert witnesses, historians and planning consultants and that costs could spiral out of control. "You could spend a lot of money, it depends how passionately they want to pursue it," he said.

Colin Buggey, who handles listed buildings for the estate agent Carter Jonas in Oxford, said the statue would have the same protection as the building and alterations to grade II * properties were generally frowned upon.

Last month, Chris Smith, Historic England's director of planning, said the organisation would view each case on its merits but that buildings will "sometimes bring us face-to-face with uncomfortable truths".

There are few precedents for removing protected statues. Save Britain's Heritage blocked the sale of The Three Graces to the US with a legal challenge arguing that Canova's marble masterpiece was a fixture of a listed building, Woburn Abbey, and made for its specially designed sculpture gallery.

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