HAVING free time to travel, enjoying more holidays and visiting family in Warwickshire, Scarborough and Kent are things Bradford Council Conservative Group leader Simon Cooke says he will immediately take advantage of when he steps off the political wheel next year.

Cllr Cooke, ward councillor for Bingley Rural announced earlier this week he was stepping down as leader of the group after the local council elections this year. But he followed this by saying he would not be seeking re-election when his term as councillor ends the following May, in 2019, when he will have been a councillor for 24 years.

The 57-year-old from South London said: “I think that’s long enough. I have enjoyed doing what I have been doing. Politics has been part of my family for as long as I can remember. My father was a local councillor for Bromley.

“I joined the Conservative Party as a 16-year-old in 1976 and after attending university in Hull, I eventually worked for the Party as an agent in Ted Heath’s old constituency.

“I was made redundant from there and looked at taking work outside London. I wrote to marketing and advertising agencies and took a job as director of JDA advertising agency in Bradford in 1987.

“Six weeks later I met my wife at an academic publishers event in Toller Lane.”

The couple lived in Cullingworth initially before moving to a larger house in Chellow Dean.

“After the seventh burglary we decided to move back to Cullingworth,” he mused.

He has also worked in consultancy and market research and business business development in the voluntary sector.

Five years ago he decided to concentrate fully on his work as councillor.

He admits his political journey has been rocky .

In the 2001 general election he lost a bid to become Tory MP for Keighley.

“I was upset to have lost at the time,” he admitted.

Then there were two occasions when he was hauled over the tribunal coals for his behaviour, the first in 2004 when he gave a Nazi salute to Cllr Lynne Joyce and shouted “Sieg heil” at a full council meeting and the second when he verbally abused Cllr David Green in 2006 during another council meeting. The outburst cost him his position as regeneration portfolio holder.

“I do regret both happened. The irony over the row with David is that we have known one another for 30 years. “With the incident at full council, there was no malice intended and I apologised soon after,” he said.

“Both situations illustrated how ridiculous the standards board regime was and cost a heck of a lot of money. The best thing that happened was when Eric Pickles scrapped it.”

Cllr Cooke also made the headlines in December 2011 when he defied a Council amnesty on banned electrical appliances to meet the council’s eco friendly standards declaring: “They will never take our toaster”.

“I argued that there were 20-odd people sharing one toaster, one small fridge and a microwave oven. I have no idea what happened to it or whether it went because I never used it, he said.”

He says his 24-year tenure has seen many positive results which the Tories had a hand in, such as the regeneration of Manningham Mills, Bingley By-pass, the eventual creation of The Broadway and the regeneration of the city centre.

“A lot has happened to Bradford though I do feel more could be done to attract more people.

“Retail is not the answer because people do so much online, but things like leisure and pleasure facilities will. The National Media and Science Museum is fantastic and we look forward to the opening of the Odeon and St George’s Hall. But I think there is more than can be done to bring more in.

“I also want Bradford Council to work and engage more with people in the districts and change their perceptions of the city centre. Too many people from the districts do not come to Bradford for one reason or anther.

“We do have a lot of good going on. The education system is on the way up, thanks to the free schools and academies and employment is increasing.

“We have a wonderful culture in the city, but there are also things to tackle such as drug, car and money laundering crimes.

“Above all the council needs to be honest and face reality of what is happening in the city, rather than just talking about the good points. We need to work with each other.”