Gallery

Cherwell’s Conservatives Conflicted on Green Issues Yet Again

During Monday’s full council meeting, Cherwell District Council voted unanimously to support a motion calling on the doubling of tree cover in the district by 2045.

I introduced an amendment to the motion calling on the council to be more ambitious in its proposals and to achieve the doubling of tree numbers by 2030 in line with the council’s declaration of a climate emergency.

Speaking during the debate, I disagreed with Conservative claims that the 2045 target was the only one that was achievable and that the council should only aim to double tree cover “as far as possible”.

We have declared a climate change emergency.  Emergency measures call for committed and ambitious actions, not vague aspirations and get-out clauses.  The climate takes no prisoners.  It doesn’t care what we think is possible, it only responds to what is needed.  We need to move faster and be more ambitious in our climate change mitigation measures and take into account the impact of all council policies on climate change

My amendment was supported by Labour and Independent members, but was blocked by the Conservatives (as usual).

As if to prove the point, in a later debate on the main modifications to the local plan partial review, campaigners from North Oxford Golf Club pleaded with the council to protect their 103-year-old club grounds from proposed development.  This would include the destruction of a large number of trees.  The Council’s proposals also call for the release of yet more green belt land and the virtual erasure of the previously sacrosanct ‘Kidlington Gap’.

Labour and Libdem councillors opposed the motion along with me for the Greens.  The proposals were agreed with all but one Conservative voting them through.

Yet again we see Cherwell’s Conservatives talking the talk on climate change, but when it comes to positive action they default to business as usual

It makes no sense to anyone other than Cherwell’s Tories to propose a measure to increase tree numbers in the district in one motion and then vote in the very same meeting to destroy hundreds of mature trees in the face of massive opposition from local residents and environmental campaigners.

It’s clear from this, and from the lack of any solid progress on the climate emergency proposals 6 months on from passing them, that Cherwell’s Conservatives simply want to box-tick the climate change issue, whilst pursuing broader policies on unnecessary growth that will be hugely damaging to the environment.

Gallery

Democracy Devalued by Cherwell District Council

Last night we saw the Cherwell Conservatives in their true colours as they waved through some fundamental changes to the council constitution despite the report they were based on being full of errors and inconsistencies.

The report itself had not been through the scrutiny and overview process, neither had any councillor, to my knowledge, been previously consulted or invited to comment on it.  It was simply dropped on to the December meeting agenda, possibly in the hope that it wouldn’t receive too much attention from councillors in the run up to Christmas.

This throws up a fundamental question on how the council is run.  Should significant issues of democratic accountability be amended by officers with virtually no input from elected councillors?  I’d argue not.  Councillors are bound by the constitution and the rules governing meetings.  They should at the very least be consulted appropriately on any changes that will affect these rules.

The proposals included restrictions on motions and amendments length, shorter notice periods for questions to council, and the ability to reject motions on the basis of heavily subjective assessments of them being ‘vexatious’ or ‘frivolous’.  They are arguably designed to limit both the scope of debates and, by implication, the ability of councillors to fully represent their ward residents.

Arguments were put forward that these rules already exist on some local councils, yet in Oxfordshire only one out of 5 district councils have similar rules (although with far greater latitude on things like motion length) and only the County Council has anything approaching this level of restriction.  It’s arguable that the County, with usually a far greater number of motions and procedural matters need a more streamlined system, but at district level this has never been an issue in Oxfordshire.

One has to ask what the motivations would be for the council agreeing to these proposals so readily.  It’s probable that after the recent change in the makeup of the council, with more non-conservative councillors being elected every year, the Tories are simply frightened of public debate.

This would appear to be predicated on the Conservatives bare-faced admission that they had already decided how they would vote on issues before any motion was proposed or debate initiated. Barry Wood’s repeated claim in meetings that all his councillors will essentially do as they are told completely undermines the basis of individual councillor representation.

Even though the report containing these proposals was significantly flawed, it was voted through by the Conservatives on the apparent understanding that it could be re-written or corrected later, without the need for further ratification.  That in itself would seem to be a ludicrous approach.  How can any such changes be approved in advance of knowing what they are?

As we have seen on numerous occasions, this is the reality of democracy in Cherwell, where the dominant follow-my-leader Tories vote en-bloc on everything, regardless of the interests of the people they represent.

This was evident during the debate at the same meeting over a second successive motion brought to the council calling on it to oppose the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway.  This included claims from Councillor Dan Sames – the council’s lead on green issues – that he is “passionate” about the environment, whilst simultaneously keeping an ‘open mind’ about a huge motorway being built, possibly through environmentally sensitive areas like Otmoor, which he represents.  Councillors like this voted for a climate change emergency motion and then somehow reconcile that with building a huge motorway.  This shows just how little commitment they really have towards care for the environment.

Cherwell District Council is now the only council in Oxfordshire not to have voted to oppose the Expressway.  As a result they are tacitly supporting it subject only to the final route.  Any route will be environmentally damaging, but this doesn’t seem to be an issue for the ‘Concreting Conservatives’.

The fact that council leader, Barry Wood, is also the Chair of the Arc Leaders Group appointed by the MHCLG to promote the expressway plans, as well as being an OxLEP and Oxfordshire Growth Board member – both organisations with a vested interest in promoting the expressway – seems not to be regarded as significant bias by the council.  I’d surmise that that is the only reason why we’re still having this debate in Cherwell – the instruction from Cllr Wood to his poodle councillors appears to be that they should not undermine his position on all these bodies by opposing one of their keynote projects.

I do not have an open mind about the Expressway and will continue to oppose it at every opportunity in favour of much more sustainable and environmentally sensitive projects such as East/West Rail.  We do not need any more massive major road building projects in this part of the county (or arguably anywhere else) regardless of which route they may take.  The Green Party’s commitment to tackling climate change cannot be overruled by the imperatives of growth for its own sake that lie at the heart of Conservative proposals in Oxfordshire.

You can view a webcast of the entire meeting on the Cherwell District Council website here  http://modgov.cherwell.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=114&MId=3240&Ver=4

Gallery

Housing on Green Belt Will Never be ‘Affordable’

IMG_5094

I took a day out of campaigning this week to attend and speak at the public inquiry of the Oxford City local plan.

It was a feeling of déjà vu for me as I spent several days doing the same thing in Cherwell earlier this year when our local plan partial review was being examined.  Cherwell is pushing to build thousands of houses on green belt land in the south of the district and I have been campaigning for the past 2 years to protect those vital green areas for future generations.

I was at the inquiry into the city plans because it’s those proposals that are forcing local district councils to add to their own housing requirements to service what the city claims is an ‘unmet need’.  Whilst I and other campaigners don’t dispute that Oxford has a need for housing for its own workers, claims that they can’t meet that need within their own boundaries are hotly disputed.

It’s generally believed that the reason they can’t meet that need themselves is that they would rather use their own land for economic development to build more shops, offices, hotels, restaurants and student accommodation.  The Labour run city council then expect the surrounding rural districts to meet their housing need for them and Conservative run councils like Cherwell are only too glad to oblige as this gives them a perfect excuse to enrich the local landowners and developers who support them.

It’s sad to see that both Labour and the Conservatives are pursuing a policy of green belt destruction in Oxfordshire when there really is no need.  There are plenty of brownfield sites available to build on, as well as empty properties that should be re-purposed or brought back into use.

I want to see more genuinely affordable housing for people on average incomes. More social and council housing. Rent controls on private landlords and an end to unfair developer lease & ground rent charges, but we will never see large amounts of affordable housing in Oxfordshire if they are built on high value green belt land.  The only reason these areas are targetted is because they are ripe to be used by developers to build high value executive homes and mini-mansions to make a massive killing.

There should not be development on Green Belt land except where there is an incontrovertible need to do so.  Our precious green spaces should not be handed over the developers simply to make huge profits for landowners and speculators, especially when much of that housing is not affordable in any real sense.

Green spaces are also now even more vital to help combat climate change and flooding.  Concreting them over and adding more roads and houses with inefficient heating systems just piles on the pressure to the environment and exports Oxford’s poor air quality standards to the rural areas of the county.

The Green party has pledged to build 100,000 genuinely affordable socially rented properties every year for 10 years.  Houses that will be built to the Passive House standard meaning they will be both sustainable and affordable to maintain and heat.

This will not only provide much-needed homes for people of average incomes, they will be the right houses in the right places and will also provide employment for thousands of builders and manufacturers.

This is on top of retrofitting every house in the country to make them more energy efficient as part of our Green New Deal.

As a founding member of a housing co-op in London in the 1980s, I also want to encourage other ways of getting people into affordable housing such as Land Trusts and Co-ops and see more social and council housing built.

You can find out more about our policies on housing in our manifesto here https://www.greenparty.org.uk/assets/files/Elections/Green%20Party%20Manifesto%202019.pdf