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Planning supremo reflects on the job's highs and lows
IN A city with the highest concentration of listed buildings outside London, Oxford’s built environment can be a contentious issue.
Despite high profile rows and judicial reviews, the city councillor responsible for development said he has enjoyed the role.
Labour’s Colin Cook, pictured, be replaced next week after failing to be re-elected to Oxford City Council’s executive board. He has been board member for city development for 10 years.
The council makes most decisions on planning applications, from new conservatories to supermarkets and major new estates.
Those decisions are taken by officers or, for larger applications, a committee of councillors with Mr Cook setting the overall strategy.
He said: “I have very much enjoyed it for the most part but I will also enjoy carrying on with my work on the planning and licensing committees as well as doing more work in my ward.”
His work has inevitably led to tensions with some residents as the council backs thousands new homes to tackle Oxford’s sky-high property prices.
Mr Cook has overseen the core strategy and Northern Gateway north of Wolvercote, a science park and 200 homes. The Jericho and Osney councillor has also overseen approval of the 900-home Barton Park scheme, to start next year.
He has lobbied for a review of Oxford’s tightly constrained Green Belt, an issue brought into sharp focus given recent changes to housing targets.
Councils were ordered to rethink numbers by the Government and a March study doubled the number needed in Oxfordshire to 100,000. In Oxford, 8,000 new homes envisaged by 2026 has been raised to 28,000.
The council said this cannot be achieved within its boundaries, constrained by Green Belt.
Mr Cook, who lives in Riverside Road, West Oxford, said: “Most people don’t like change, but for a city to grow and prosper it does need to change.
“I think Oxford will achieve that but by a process of evolution not revolution. The areas we are looking at for housing consist of less than a single per cent of the entire Green Belt.”
Notable controversies in his tenure include Oxford University’s student flats in Roger Dudman Way, West Oxford, which opened last year.
Campaigners said the flats block the view of the city’s “dreaming spires” from Port Meadow but lost a judicial review.
The university has ordered an environmental impact assessment to gauge its impact.
Mr Cook said: “I look forward to seeing this progress and the mitigation that the university is proposing come to fruition.”
But he said the building he most regretted being approved was the 19.75m-tall Newsquest printing press in Osney Mead, home to the Oxford Mail, approved in 2007.
Mr Cook, a chief technician at Oxford University, said: “That was my biggest mistake, and I’m happy to admit it.”
Oxford Preservation Trust director Debbie Dance said: “He has overseen an awful lot of changes in Oxford, some for the good and some for the bad, but you can’t say he hasn’t worked hard at it.”
- COLIN Cook will officially cease to be responsible for Oxford’s planning policy on Monday, when the new executive board is approved at annual council.
His fellow Labour councillors did not re-elect him to the executive board following last month’s local elections. He will be replaced by the city council’s leader Bob Price, who will take over the planning portfolio along with economic development and corporate strategy.
The annual council meeting will take place in the Town Hall at 4pm.
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