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Our Green Spaces are Worth Fighting For!

I’ve spoken to hundreds of people during this short election campaign and probably the most important issue on most people’s minds right now is the threat to our local green belt.

I made a video about it last week which has received quite a bit of attention since it was released. You can watch it here.

Of course in Yarnton, Begbroke and Gosford (where I’m standing to become the new local County Councillor) it’s in the forefront of everyone’s minds because, if it goes ahead, we’ll be the ones living in the middle of a building site for possibly the next 10 years. We’ll also see our small rural communities destroyed and replaced with a single medium sized town, one that will probably also double up as a university campus for the Begbroke Science Park.

But even in Kidlington, (which comprises a large part of the County division) it’s going to have a huge impact. There may not be as many houses built in the area, but the additional strain on our local resources, such as health services, education and leisure facilities will be very detrimental. We’ll also see a noticeable reduction in air quality which is likely to have health impacts on the most vulnerable, as well as increased risks of flooding. The A44 will probably become a car park during busy times, giving us all the chance to sit and admire the 4 storey apartment blocks that will tower over the edge of the dual carriageway.

There’s also a good chance that Kidlington will finally lose the argument about hanging on to it’s status as a village. In 10 years time, when the population has possibly tripled, there’s likely to be a much greater push to establish the whole area as a suburb of a Greater Oxford City. Not a prospect I, or anyone else in the area, relishes but something we may have little choice over.

I for one won’t stop fighting for that until the last blade of grass has fallen under the bulldozer’s tracks.

All this might be acceptable to a greater degree if these houses were going to provide affordable accommodation for local families, many of whom are crammed into a single house with perhaps 3 generations under one roof. But these aren’t for the likes of them. These will be expensive luxury executive houses built for investment purposes, with the so-called ‘affordable’ houses reserved for people in Oxford City. The District Council saw to that when they handed control of those houses over to the City Council in a closed meeting at the beginning of the first lockdown. None of these houses will be within reach of local residents.

A lot of people have told me that all this is inevitable and that the 4400 houses are a ‘done deal’. Well that isn’t the case until we know the outcome of the legal challenge being brought to the high court next month. Until that’s over we have no idea if these proposals will stand up or collapse. There have been reports in other areas recently where challenges have been upheld, and if we get the same result Cherwell District Council will have to think again. In those circumstances we’ll need as much support on the District Council as possible which is why I’m supporting Fiona Mawson to become our second Green Party Councillor on CDC.

But even if we fail to stop these devastating plans though the courts, we can at least do our best to limit some of that devastation by having engaged and active councillors at all levels of local government. On the County Council fighting for infrastructure and other important considerations like flood protection, and of course at District and Parish level scrutinising the individual planning proposals themselves. We also have to be vigilant in opposing ‘infilling’ which may become more of an issue as the amount of development space in the area is snapped up by the bigger developers.

So I hope I and Fiona can count on the support of our local residents in the elections on Thursday. We’ve seen how our current crop of Conservative councillors have let us down on these issues, and let’s not forget that this whole idea was the brainchild of the Conservatives on Cherwell District Council in the first place, in cahoots with Oxford University, the City Council, the Oxfordshire Growth Board and the Local Enterprise Partnership. After Thursday we may have more leverage to defend our small rural communities against these faceless, unelected and anti-democratic quangos and take back control of our green heritage.

I for one won’t stop fighting for that until the last blade of grass has fallen under the bulldozer’s tracks. I hope you’ll all support me as your Green Councillor in that long battle.

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Watch – Why do I Want to be Your County Councillor? [VIDEO]

I currently sit on 4 different councils – Cherwell District Council, Yarnton Parish Council, Gosford and Water Eaton Parish Council and Kidlington Parish Council.

So why do I also want to be a County Councillor? Well there are many things I can’t get done without influence at a county level. I’ve tried several times to get the county to co-operate on issues that needs to be dealt with in my district ward, such as road repairs, tree planting and flood defences. Sometimes it can take me a whole year just to get a meeting with county officers.

As a County Councillor it will be far more difficult for the county council to ignore me. I’ll be able to get things done that have not been properly dealt with by the existing councillor in Kidlington South.

If you don’t know who that is and you live in the Kidlington South Division (check your polling card) then that’s a pretty good indication of how bad a job your current councillor is doing.

This short video gives you some more idea of why I would like to be your representative on the County Council, especially for people who live in Yarnton and Begbroke. As a Yarnton resident myself it will be nice to be able to help people in my local community.

Watch the video here https://youtu.be/YPQ00FGIlFc

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Cherwell Passes a Climate Change Emergency Motion but Labour and Conservatives Still Vote to Destroy Greenbelt

imageAt last week’s full council meeting of Cherwell District Council, councillors unanimously passed a climate change emergency motion calling on leader Barry Wood to report back to the council in six months on progress made on several environmental objectives for Cherwell.

As Cherwell’s only Green councillor I supported the motion with some reservations about the council’s true commitment to the difficult decisions that will need to be taken if the district is going to become truly carbon neutral by 2030.

As if to prove that point the council then went on to debate my motion calling for a rethink on plans to build on green belt in south Cherwell.

The motion, seconded by Libdem councillor Conrad Copeland,  asked for a temporary pause to allow for new evidence to be taken into account that casts doubt on the number of houses needed to support Oxford’s unmet need – the justification for Cherwell’s partial review of its local plan.

I also raised concerns about the amount of expansion being tacitly agreed to for the Begbroke Science Park that also encompasses large areas of Yarnton.  In my opinion, this has been slipped into the review under false pretences, given that this has nothing to do with housing need in Oxford.  As a result there’s mounting local criticism of the university’s ambitions to commandeer at least 1000 of the houses intended to meet Oxford’s needs for its own use as part of a new campus at Begbroke and Yarnton.

Chair of the Cherwell Development Watch Alliance, Giles Lewis, spoke in favour of the motion at the packed meeting and read out emails between the council and the university, obtained under and FOI request, that suggested plans to allow the university to expand in the area were already being supported as long ago as 2016.

The Labour group on the council then introduced an amendment which blocked any re-consideration of housing need numbers, even though this might mean more houses that were needed would be built on green belt.

I pointed out that just to offset the amount of carbon produced in building the unaffordable and unneeded houses in the first place would take 572,000 trees over 10 years, or 200 per house, rather than the 1 tree per building that Cllr Wood had suggested during his address on the climate change emergency motion.

It’s clear that neither Labour nor the Conservatives are prepared to take the difficult decisions that are needed to combat the climate emergency.  Labour were far more concerned not to be seen to be challenging inflated housing need figures proposed by their colleagues on the city council, whist the Conservatives simply want to be facilitators for large wealthy landowners in the area including the university.  The location of the housing clearly has more to do with the university’s ambitions than it does with genuine housing allocation priorities.  Either way it ends up with unnecessary and unaffordable housing being built that locals will have no access to on the green spaces at the heart of their community.  This is a stitch-up perpetrated on the people of south Kidlington, Yarnton, Begbroke and Gosford!

Libdem Councillor and spokesperson for the Progressive Oxfordshire group, Katherine Tyson said “These plans will simply expand the city’s appalling air quality into our rural community.  At one point Labour councillor and vice-chairperson of the council Hannah Banfield seemed to suggest that, as Banbury residents had accepted bad air quality as a result of housing development in their area, the people of south Cherwell should just do the same.  The argument that one ward coming to peace with poisoning their residents and children doesn’t mean that another ward should also poison their constituents. That’s not good enough for Cherwell residents.  It beggars belief that such a comment could be made from a Labour councillor just after we had voted in favour of a climate change emergency motion”

The motion to pause the local review pending the outcome of the examination of the city council local plan and to separately consult on the university’s plans in Begbroke and Yarnton was successfully amended by the Labour group to an undertaking to review the allocation sites for the 4400 houses. It was carried by Labour with Conservatives abstaining on the vote.  The subsequent motion was defeated by 16 votes to 23.