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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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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.

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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