Wheatsheaf: Bid to save Oxford’s last city centre gig venue as ‘community asset’

MUSICIANS and gig goers fighting to save Oxford city centre’s last remaining real gig venue from being turned into student flats have launched a bid to preserve the building as a community asset.

Owners of The Wheatsheaf, off High Street, have submitted an application to Oxford City Council for permission to close its first floor concert venue and convert it into apartments.

Read more: Gog goers ‘devastated’ at plan to shut the Sheaf

The venue has hosted rock, pop, jazz, metal, dance, acoustic and folk shows for 20 years in its current form, and as a performance space for many years before that. It has played host to many of the city’s bands including Supergrass, Stornoway and Foals – who played their first show there.

More than 2,000 people have joined a ‘Save the Sheaf’ Facebook page and almost 1,400 have posted objections to the proposal on the city council’s planning site.

Music promoter Greg Brown is among supporters who have formed a committee to fight the plans. He said: “It is truly overwhelming to see so many people unite to try to save one of Oxford’s favourite venues.

“Our next step is to apply for an asset of community value status. We hope this will start to safeguard the venue from future development should the current application be refused.”

An asset of community value (ACV) is a building or piece of land deemed to be of importance to a community and given protection from development. Status can be cited as a reason for refusing a planning application for a change of use and in some cases allows communities to buy the site. In some cases an ACV-registered building can be compulsorily purchased by a council if there is a risk of it being lost to the community. The procedure has been used to save pubs, parks and sports grounds.

Mr Brown said: “For the alternative music scene in Oxford, The Wheatsheaf is the centre of their community. Cultural venues are important to us. The independent music scene has a huge following and gigs have been going on in some form or other since the 1700s. It’s the only remaining gig venue in Oxford city centre and to lose it would be devastating.”

The Wheatsheaf plans, submitted by applicant Glen de Unger through his agent Tim Smith of Riach Architects in Banbury Road, requests permission for the conversion of first and second floors to create nine student rooms, a shared kitchen and common area. The pub would remain, but a section would be converted into a bike store for the upstairs flats.

Oxford band Bright Works performing at the Wheatsheaf, Oxford, in 2013. Picture: Henry Blyth.

Veteran punk-rocker John Otway, who has had two top 40 hits and started his career in Oxford, said: “I’ve been playing the Wheatsheaf for over 30 years. It will be a great loss if it goes.

“These venues are the foundation of the UK music industry.”

Read more: Fury as Wheatsheaf gig goers told to use Town Hall if venue closes

Commenting on the Save the Sheaf Facebook page, musician Gemma Moss said: “I met my husband here seven years ago when both our bands were playing the same gig – Gappy Tooth. I would be extremely sad if it didn’t exist anymore. I have so many happy memories of upstairs at the Sheaf. Met and partied with many beautiful folk.”

Comment on the application, ref: 21/00345/FUL on the city council’s planning site public.oxford.gov.uk/online-applications

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