It might strike some as remarkable that Oxford should require a hefty study to better protect the world famous views of its dreaming spires, given their importance to the city’s heritage and history, to say nothing of their attraction to visitors.

But recognising the scale of development that the city is now seeing, and with the no sign of the Castle Mill planning fiasco coming to an end, there is good, and indeed, urgent reason to take a good hard look at the significance of these views and what impact developments are likely to have upon them.

And the setting down of a unified evidence-based approach to planning must be viewed as equally pressing. For it still appears madness that the Castle Mill blocks were allowed to inflict “high adverse impact” on no fewer than four major heritage sites (and that’s according to the university commissioned environmental impact assessment) just for the sake of creating accommodation for 312 postgraduates, while thousands of homes are not built on land off Grenoble Road, because that large shabby green site near the Kassam Stadium is viewed as too precious. But it happened. And to avoid any charge of hypocrisy being levelled at The Oxford Times, let us not shrink from observing that some will always question the wisdom of allowing our press hall to be built at Osney Mead.

Now it seems all sides welcome the clarity that the English Heritage-funded assessment of the Oxford View Cones study should bring. The issue now is whether it goes far enough, and if it would indeed really spare us a second Castle Mill. The Oxford Preservation Trust, the main driver behind the initiative, certainly recognises that by focusing on what is effectively Oxford’s Top Ten views, many important views are excluded.

The CPRE maintains that this 135-page report would not in fact prevent a planning fiasco such as the Port Meadow flats, because the blocks just happen to be located within the Wolvercote view cone.
The good news, however, is that this report will be available to planners, land owners, developers and yes residents at a time when so many major developments in the city, not least at Oxpens, are rapidly moving forward. We are being told an early draft of the study has helped in designing the new Westgate shopping centre. 

We must hope, along with the OPT and CPRE, that Assessment of the Oxford View Cones will give impetus to a second and speedy second views study, equally detailed – and equally difficult for planners and developers to ignore when major  applications come forward. 

English Heritage generously funded this admirable study. Hopefully, the positive response may persuade EH to maintain the momentum by giving more funds – if not perhaps Oxford University’s name could appear on Oxford View Assessments Part Two, particularly if the Wolvercote View Cone was prominent among the views.