Writer and urbanist Leo Hollis considers changing policies around protected views, which seek to preserve a city's history and skyline amid increasing urban development

Oxford is under threat. In recent months, the council has been responding to widespread concerns that the city of “dreaming spires” was about to be swamped by a rash of tall new buildings. As a result, alongside English Heritage and other agencies, the council has devised policies that create a series of protected views, triangular sections that cut across the map in order to preserve the vertical skyline of the city.

A selection of city panoramas from particular points of historic or local interest have been protected, taking in not just individual historical buildings but also the topography, the city as a landscape of natural features, variegated heights and forms, combining into a pleasing image. As the interim report for the Oxford Views study says, this harmony is constantly in jeopardy, facing “the continuing challenges of building within the city to meet the demands of a modern society.”

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