Islamic centre set to open next year

A MULTI-MILLION pound building which has lain empty for almost a decade is set to finally open next year after a £25m boost.

The Oxford Centre For Islamic Studies (OCIS), with its minaret dominating the view over the River Cherwell from Marston Road, will open in 2012, it was revealed last night.

Although work began on the building in 2002, it has never opened. Now the final piece of the funding jigsaw has fallen into place and the finishing touches are being made.

Centre registrar Richard Makepeace said: “We are confident we can meet our obligations and we are on target for opening in 2012.”

Building work on the 3.25-acre site, bought from Magdalen College, was originally scheduled to finish in 2004. Then the trustees found they were £25m short and work ground to a halt.

Mr Makepeace, a former British diplomat in Cairo, said: “Producing the building we want takes time. We wanted a building that bears comparison with other Oxford landmarks. But we are on the final straight now.”

He said the building was originally budgeted at £60m, but with time and inflation the end cost will be higher – but he could not say what the final figure would be.

The money has come from a number of individuals and governments, with the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia alone donating £20m.

But Mr Makepeace said the Libyan Government of Colonel Gaddafi had not been among the contributors.

The centre was originally conceived before the horrors of 9/11 and present upheavals in the Islamic world.

Mr Makepeace said: “These events make the mission of understanding and international co-operation even more important.”

The centre will include a mosque, offices, an auditorium, a lecture theatre and a dining hall as well as accommodation for about 40 graduate students and parking.

Mr Makepeace said it will be an economic bonus for Oxford, creating dozens of jobs. He said there were no plans to broadcast a call to prayer.

Prince Charles, who is patron of the centre, took a prominent part in the design of the Islamic garden.

The OCIS is a recognised independent centre of Oxford University.  

Roy Darke, county councillor for Headington and Marston, said: “It will be a great relief to see the building finished.

“It has been a long time, but it is a symbolic building, so the Islamic community have wanted to get it right.”

Mr Darke said other groups and communities would be able to use the building and grounds, which would be a boost for Marston.


An "urban myth" about why the centre has taken so long to complete was last night dispelled by the centre staff and Marston residents. Rumours have long circulated that construction work stopped because it was suggested the site was once a pig farm, which could have caused offence to Muslims. County councillor Roy Darke said: "I think that's complete nonsense, just people trying to make trouble." Centre registrar Richard Makepeace said: "It is one of those urban myths - no substance to the rumour at all."    

 Registrar Richard Makepeace outside the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies

 Our area committees are in need of reform

Mick Haines (Oxford Mail, letters, February 21) is a regular attender at the city council’s North East Area Committee (NEAC) and is contentious in his pursuit of action on local issues in New Marston and beyond. As its chairman, I am used to Mick’s inevitable interventions. Often he repeats questions month after month, where, for example, a legal blockage has stopped progress on the improvement of the footpath link from Old Marston into town across the New Marston recreation ground. Despite the explanations from councillors, Mick returns to ask the same question. I do wonder if this is the best way of pursuing what is, in this example, an intractable problem about land ownership. The example shows, ironically, the good and the bad things about the current area committee system. Action does sometimes take much longer than we all would wish, but the law is the law. To act ultra vires is every council’s worst nightmare. On the other hand, people having their say is profoundly important. The proposal to change the current area system into an area forum structure and take planning decisions into a broader, specialised committee system is sensible. The current hybrid of an open communal discussion of local issues, with nothing barred, contrasts markedly with the constipated formality of planning protocols which demand everything is done ‘just-so’ when applications are determined. Area committees are always games of two halves. The proposal for change seeks to separate out these functions and give greater clarity and opportunity for the council to perform each responsibility better. Frankly, in many parts of the city, area committees are poorly attended and moribund. Many residents only come for the planning items. So the proposal for change will see a more strategic approach to planning issues in a purpose-made structure. Area forums and local participatory democracy can be enhanced when local members decide what accountability style and system suits their area best. Area forums could be a quarterly report-back, Q&A, regular testing of opinion. If something does not work, then local members can try another approach tailored to local need. I cannot see much wrong with that. Talk of abolition and anti-democratic behaviour is just scare-mongering. Roy Darke, Oxford city councillor and chairman of NEAC, Edgeway Road Oxford


 Saturday, 26 February 2011

Busy Oxford route gets a double-decker

AN extra double-decker bus journey has been added in Oxford to cut queues during morning rush hour.

Hundreds of residents, Oxford Brookes students and John Radcliffe Hospital users take the single-decker C13 every day in Marston, causing congestion at peak times.

Last night, Marston resident Mick Haines, who has collected more than 500 signatures to get a double-decker added to the route, said he was delighted with the news.

The C13 links the JR, Northway, Marston and Oxford city centre and rail station, via Redbridge Park-and-Ride.

Oxford Bus Company operations director Louisa Weeks said the firm had decided to add an extra rush-hour bus before learning about the petition.

She said: “We are aware that occasional journeys at peak times can be very busy.

“Perhaps this is a case of great minds think alike as we’ve been monitoring the situation and, earlier this week, we found the resources to introduce an extra journey during the morning rush hour.

“It will be operated by a double-decker vehicle and will start this coming Monday.”

The whole service would be reviewed in the future, she said.

She said: “In the meantime I can assure our passengers in the Marston area that the last thing in the world we want to do is cause them any inconvenience.”

Mr Haines, 69, of Croft Road, said: “This is brilliant news.

“So many people use that route and it could get extremely busy.

“On the single-decker buses you could only get one pushchair on board, so you’d often see mums and their babies having to wait in the cold for the next one to come.

“I managed to collect more than 520 signatures on a petition, so having a new double-decker bus was something the community felt strongly about.

“I think it’s a great decision and most bus users around here will be grateful to Oxford Bus Company for laying it on.”



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