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Councillor ‘has conflict of interests over Castle Mill’
A LEADING councillor has resisted a call to resign after a campaigner said his Oxford University job was causing a conflict of interest.
Summertown resident Sean Feeney, known for launching legal challenges, called on Colin Cook to resign at a city council meeting on Monday night.
He claimed that Mr Cook, a councillor for Jericho and Osney and city executive board member for development, had acted in the best interests of his employer, the University of Oxford, rather than residents when making key decisions.
He said they included the highly controversial Castle Mill student accommodation overlooking Port Meadow.
He said Mr Cook had not declared his job at the university’s medical science teaching centre when making such decisions.
Mr Feeney said: “Executive board member for city development councillor Colin Cook, whose interests do you serve? – those of your employer the University of Oxford, or those of your constituents who you were elected to represent?”
Mr Feeney became famous in the early 2000s after challenging the council on issues including an audit meeting which took place without the correct number of councillors present.
He also mounted a legal challenge to the city’s core development strategy and challenged Chiltern Railways’ plan for a new rail link to London. Both the High Court challenges failed.
In his official register of interests, Mr Cook has his job at the university’s South Parks Road base listed.
He said: “In my work in the medical science teaching centre I work in the interest of my employer, Oxford University. In my work as a councillor I work in the interest of my constituents.
“My employment is a matter of public record and I have followed all advice. I will not be resigning.”
Mr Cook is one of many councillors with academic links including city council leader Bob Price, who is head of human resources at Oxford Brookes University.
Councillors David Rundle and Jim Campbell lecture at Oxford University part-time, while Labour’s Bev Clack and Michele Paule work at Brookes.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Cook said Mr Feeney ought to have gone through the council’s standards committee. He added: “The standards committee does not usually have a reporter waiting to hear what’s going on. Full council does.”
He said that he had declared an interest and left the room when a planning decision on the building he works in was made 10 years ago, and had made similar declarations in relation to the university club.
He said: “To say that I’m a patsy for the university is a nonsense.
Of university planning applications, he said: “They don’t want to mess up the city and they don’t seem to have done too bad a job over the past 700 years.”
According to the Localism Act 2011, councils have to keep a register of interests for elected members, but it is up to councils what councillors must declare, although they must declare any financial interest in any item being discussed and must leave the room during discussions.
Mr Cook is not required to register the fact he works for the university every time a matter involving the university comes up as his job is not considered a pecuniary interest.
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