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The County Council are quite literally painting over the cracks in cycling infrastructure

I was flabbergasted to see cycle lane markings appearing on some roads in my ward in east Kidlington after asking the county council to repair them since I was elected in 2019.

Roads such as Yarnton Road, which is a major route from Kidlington, have been in a terrible state of repair for years, with large potholes, cracks and raised areas around access covers.  Areas near the kerbside are heavily damaged making for an uncomfortable and dangerous ride for cyclists and other road users. Yet repeated requests to the council and reports on Fix My Street have gone unheeded.

Now, in the wake of increased cycling as a result of the pandemic, cycle lane symbols have appeared on this road on top of the cracks and potholes, with no attempt to repair the long-standing degradation of the road surface.

Other roads, such as the Bicester Road, have had painted cycle lanes on the main carriageway for some time, but there are also poorly maintained and often blocked by parked cars meaning cyclists have to face oncoming traffic to navigate them. This is particularly bad given that this road has a local school and is also subject to an air quality management area.

But I was gobsmacked when I saw the cycling symbol on Yarnton Road.  This is a road that I regularly cycle down and it’s a real bone shaker.  It’s no exaggeration to say that you have to hang on for dear life as you bounce along the road near the curbs, dodging potholes and cracks.  It’s especially dangerous at night.

The road forms part of a national cycling route, but you’d never know it to look at the surface of the carriageway.  It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted!  I couldn’t believe they just slapped a cycle symbol on the road without any attention to its terrible condition.

It takes more than a pot of paint and a stencil to create a cycle path.  The road surface has to be fit for riders if they are to be encouraged to use it.  Even motorists complain about the state of this road.  How does the council expect cyclists to cope as they rattle across these severely damaged and uneven surfaces? This is just pure tokenism!

It just goes to show how little the council knows or cares about the plight of cyclists in the county.  If they really want to encourage more sustainable transport, especially post COVID, they have to take cyclists needs into proper account when carrying out road maintenance rather than literally just painting over the cracks!

We need more Green councillors on the county council to take these sorts of issue seriously and deliver real improvements for cyclists, pedestrians and other road users, rather than these half-hearted token gestures from a council devoid of real leadership and direction.

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Public Services Should be Publicly Owned and Funded

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For me this has always been an absolute red line in terms of how our society is organised.  I’ve never been opposed to the free market, even though in my experience in business the free bit is usually very far from free.

But there are certain services that society needs to function, and our economy is also dependent on.  These are broadly health, education, social care, welfare, transport, police, fire services, the military and local infrastructure.  I may have missed something but you get the gist.

Over the past 10 years we know that these have all been the subject of cuts, and we’ve all seen the results.  Not only has this left us impoverished as a nation, it’s also applied serious downward pressure on our productivity and our economy.

It’s analogous to the way that businesses are run when they start to get into trouble.  First you cut the things you don’t really need, then the things you think you can do without but would like to have, then you cut they think you do need but try to work around, then things you actually need to operate like stock and equipment and then finally you realise you’ve removed your ability to actually do anything productive.

We’re pretty much at the end of that process now, and we need to fix it.

Additionally, we know that many of the things that were cut didn’t need to be cut.  The Tories are never one to let a good crisis go to waste and used the financial crash as an excuse to decimate social services and welfare, dismantle the NHS and remove many of the support services for those in the greatest need.

This was driven more by ideology and the Tories obsession with reducing the deficit at all costs, even though this had very little discernible effect on the national debt.  When productivity and the economy stall, you end up with less money coming into the coffers and you have to borrow more.  That’s where we are now.

There should be a real end to the culture of austerity and public service cuts. We’re one of the richest nations in the world, with everyone paying their fair share we should be able to care for and protect all our citizens and keep the infrastructure we all rely on well maintained and working properly.

The cost of train fares for example is absolutely ludicrous at the moment and are some of the highest in Europe with some of the worst services being provided.  This gives lie to the idea that privatisation makes things more efficient.  That said, I know that nationalised services gained a bad reputation back in the old days, but I think that was more an issue of management culture.  There’s no reason why things can’t be run completely in the public sector by staff and management who are properly motivated.

Overall though there are vital services keep our economy moving, and they should be properly supported by government.  I’d like to see all of them eventually brought back fully into public ownership and run collectively for the good of the people who rely on them on a zero-sum gain basis.  If private businesses can make a profit out of these services now, there’s no reason why they can’t be revenue generating for society or provided at a reduced, subsidised cost where appropriate.  It may even be possible to provide some of them for free!  Hopefully much freer than the so-called free market!

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Planning Inspector Raises Doubts Over Oxford City Council’s Housing Figures

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Huge areas of green belt land are under threat in Kidlington, Yarnton and Begbroke

A number of fundamental questions about Oxford City Council’s submission of its local plan have been raised by the planning inspector in his initial questions and comments.  These questions are strikingly familiar to anyone who was at the Public Inquiry into Cherwell District Council’s Local Plan Review earlier this year.

At the hearing, local campaigners called on Cherwell to delay any further work on the plan to build 4400 houses on prime Green Belt in Kidlington, Yarnton and Begbroke until the true figures of housing need in Oxford were known.

Cherwell’s local plan review is predicated on a perceived obligation to help meet Oxford City’s housing need.  Campaigners against the plans have repeatedly argued that Oxford’s need cannot be quantified until their local plan has been agreed, approved and published.  Something the City Council has been slow to progress.

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MP Layla Moran with Ian Middleton in Yarnton

Instead, District councils have relied on guesswork and a ‘working assumption’ from the Oxfordshire Growth Board (OGB) based on figures in the 2014 Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA).  A report that itself has been highly criticised since its publication.

In response, the City Council commissioned an update to the SHMA.  This demonstrated that the original figures were over-estimates, a conclusion backed by follow up analysis from an independent planning consultant presented to the Cherwell hearing.  Both the city and district councils, including Cherwell, have sought to ignore the implications of these reports, but the inconsistencies have not escaped the planning inspector.  These include:

  • The fact that figures being used to underpin assumptions of need are now over 8 years old
  • That the 2018 SHMA points to a significantly lower housing need than that shown in the 2014 version and that these figures have not been incorporated into the City’s plan.
  • Inconsistencies in estimated housing capacities in the City’s plan and the ‘Growth Deal’ proposals
  • Suggestions of prescriptive planning policies that preclude development in numerous key areas
  • Concerns over double counting of homeless numbers where new households are ignored
  • Inappropriate market ‘uplifts’ producing around a 30% over-estimate of housing need

Ian Middleton, Cherwell District Council’s new Green councillor said

“The inspector’s comments are a clear vindication of the position taken by groups opposed to Cherwell’s plans to devastate green spaces in South Cherwell on the basis of an assumed need that has been significantly inflated.

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Cllr Ian Middleton at the Cherwell Public Inquiry

During the public inquiry, Cherwell resolutely refused to listen to calls from myself and MP Layla Moran to delay their plans until the City’s need had been properly established.  It’s now clear we were right and the need to suspend Cherwell’s local plan review, regardless of their planning inspector’s verdict, is even more urgent.

The assumptions on housing need used by the OGB have now been undermined by 2 independent studies, and a planning inspector.  How much more evidence does the council need to admit that their proposals in Kidlington, Begbroke and Yarnton are misguided and woefully unsound?

It would be hugely irresponsible for a council to impose such sweeping and irreversible damage on local communities when they know that the data underpinning those plans is at best questionable and at worse completely wrong”

The planning inspector is expected to publish his response to the Cherwell Local plan review in the next few weeks.

You can see the full text of the planning inspector’s comments and questions on the city council plan here https://www.oxford.gov.uk/downloads/file/6397/ic1_-_inspectors_initial_questions_and_comments_to_occ