Draft Housing and Homelessness Strategy – Lib Dem response

Here is the response made by the Lib Dem Group to the City’s Council consultation

RESPONSE TO DRAFT HOUSING & HOMELESSNESS STRATEGY

2018-2021 

INTRODUCTION

This is a response from the Housing & Homelessness sub-committee on behalf of the Liberal Democrat City Councillors’ Group.

Housing and Homelessness are both huge national problems. Oxford City Council has decided to include both in one strategy, together with the difficult issue of bringing empty properties back into use. This seems a reasonable way of dealing with overlapping problems.

Chapter 3: Oxford’s Housing Challenge

COMMENTS & RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. We support a renewal of council house building and oppose the right to buy; we support the introduction of legislation to facilitate this.
  2. We consider it important to support first time buyers and local people trying to up-size their homes. A policy prohibiting the sale of new-build houses and flats to people who will use them as second homes, or whose primary residence is outside Oxford’s environs, would prevent Buy to Let and would stop holiday home owners out-competing  local and first time buyers. Similar policies are being employed in Exmoor National Park and St Ives, Cornwall to good effect.
  3. We should promote community land trust development, where the freehold is owned by the community and people acquire low(er) cost homes and pay just for the bricks and mortar.
  4. We should encourage better occupancy of property – higher rates on empty and significantly under occupied property could be adopted.
  5. Lastly, good public transport and top-notch public parks and gardens are vital if high density housing is to be successful.  

Chapter 4: INCREASE THE SUPPLY AND IMPROVE ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE HOUSING

COMMENTS on Affordability:

The Housing and Homelessness Strategy (H&HS) makes frequent mention of affordability. The authors note that in terms of median income, housing in Oxford has become markedly more expensive in recent years. Despite this awareness of the lack of affordability, when affordability is mentioned in the context of new development no definition is given. This lack of clarity allows developers to set their own definition, with the term ‘affordable housing’ having no meaning, and little value.

RECOMMENDATION: For each subtype of property (e.g. an 80 sq.m. 2 bedroom,1 bathroom flat), or for each council tax band, if that is the preferred method, officers should consider providing a definition of what would be an “affordable” price. Given the high utility of linking prices to income, we recommend expressing this in terms of local Gross Disposable Housing Income (GDHI). In Oxford this was approx. £28k in 2015) [1]. Council tax bands may be useful to capture some variation, i.e. ‘very affordable’, ‘affordable’, ‘market value’ but will be a blunter tool for defining affordability.

Chapter 5: PREVENT HOMELESSNESS AND MEET THE NEEDS OF VULNERABLE PEOPLE

COMMENTS:

  1. An urgent need for Increased Funding

The H&HS does not adequately recognize the scale of this problem, which has been escalating throughout the country over the last seven years.

The Guardian (13 October 2017) reports the National Audit Office’s figure for Autumn 2016 of 4,100 rough sleepers, an increase of 134% since 2010. However, the homelessness charity Crisis estimates that the current average number of rough sleepers in the UK is 9,000.

A recent study by Heriot-Watt University showed that, if Government policy did not change, the number of homeless people would reach 575,000 by 2041, up from 236,000 in 2016. The estimate of 575,000 includes 40,000 rough sleepers.

This is a social epidemic.

The Government has responded, but only recently, by announcing the funding of a Homelessness Prevention Trailblazer initiative. This will provide help to the homeless in several of the UK’s cities, one of which is Oxford. Para 5.39 refers to the £790,000 available to the City under this scheme.

The Government has said it is committed to “eliminate(ing) rough sleeping entirely.”

RECOMMENDATION: Oxford City should combine with other cities selected to receive this funding, to press the Government to (a) increase Trailblazer resources and (b) stop the further roll out of universal benefit until it can be better managed, in particular by reducing the 6 week period between application and receipt of this benefit, and by providing emergency payments during those interim weeks and a long ‘claw-back’ period for such payments.

Amyas Morse, Auditor General, says the DWP has failed to evaluate the impact of benefit changes on Homelessness. He says “It is difficult to understand why the Department persisted with its light touch approach.”

  1. Private Rented Sector

The National Audit Office has advised that the number of homeless families in the UK has risen by more than 60% and this is likely to have been driven by the Government’s welfare reforms. Private sector rents have gone up by 3x as much as wages since 2010 – except in N& E Midlands.

The Local Government Association said on 13 October 2017: ‘Councils have to plug the gap between rising rents and frozen housing benefit.’

The H&HS draft discusses liaising with private landlords to keep private sector tenancies going, and confirms that the PRS team can advise on schemes such as Home Choice, the Rent Deposit Guarantee Scheme, Real Lettings Scheme.

 

RECOMMENDATION: The PRS team is clearly vital in maintaining relationships with existing Landlords and in encouraging others (only 3% at present) to take tenants on housing/universal benefit. Advice on all these schemes should be clearly set out and widely available in community centres, libraries etc. The Council needs to consider whether this team needs to be increased in size to match the growth in homelessness from tenancies terminated in the private sector.

 

  1. Rough Sleepers

The H&HS draft includes, at p.69:

(i) ‘exploring flexible options to accommodate or support homeless rough sleepers …who have no local connection to the city or anywhere else, and no recourse to public funds’

COMMENT
This is an important step towards making provision for those who have previously fallen outside the safety net of local connection. Provision may be made by providing travel costs to a place where the rough sleeper (RS) does have a local connection. However, if a RS has lived on the streets of Oxford for, say, 12 months, should there not come a point where the City provides for him locally if no other connection can be established? This is an important debate, which may lead to calls for a national policy of support.

RECOMMENDATION 1: The H&HS draft needs to specify how these people can become eligible for Oxfordshire services, and how they can then access accommodation and the homelessness pathway. Without a clear strategy defining who can access support, it is likely that few in this group will see much improvement in their current drifting life style.

RECOMMENDATION 2:

The City Council should draw up a list of minimum requirements to meet the needs of RSs – this should include a substantial increase in shower facilities, possibly at drop in centres like the Gatehouse, and provision of clothes for interviews.

(ii) ‘ensure adequate crisis accommodation including winter and severe weather provision’

COMMENT
For a civilised city, this is no more than a basic humanitarian response.

RECOMMENDATION 3: The H&HS needs to include an appendix, continually updated, of accommodation available for rough sleepers in cold weather. The point at which ’severe weather’ provision is triggered is currently three successive nights at freezing temperatures. This should be reconsidered – a fridge runs at approx. 4 degrees C so no one should be expected to sleep safely outside at that temperature.

The churches and other institutions offering crisis accommodation should be given ongoing training and support, and additional places should be sought. A sit-up room is not adequate. 

  1. Punitive Measures

These have been applied to rough sleepers by many local authorities. These include Oxford. The imposition of Commmunity Protection Notices in this city on 19 July 2017 made the national as well as the local press. The notices, accompanied by a letter, were pinned to the property of rough sleepers in the city centre, requiring them to remove their property to storage within 24 hours, failing which a fine of £2,500 could be levied.

This action was represented by the Board Member for Housing in Council on 2 October as a Health and Safety issue – fire escape exits were allegedly blocked by rough sleepers’ possessions – although the use of fire regulation powers could have solved this apparent issue without recourse to CPNs.

The H&HS Draft makes no mention of community protection notices, and refers to the imposition of penalties on rough sleepers in the most minimal terms: para 5.78: ‘as a last resort (the Council) will explore the use of various legislations’.

RECOMMENDATION 1:

The Strategy should include a clear set of rules, establishing the criteria upon which CPNs could be issued. An individual CPN would have to be authorized in writing by the Legal Department and by the Head of Service in each case.

RECOMMENDATION 2:

The use of other punitive measures e.g. Anti-Social Behavior Orders, Public Spaces Protection Orders, should be subject to the same set of rules as PCNs.

  1. Establishing a Stakeholder/Partnership Forum

COMMENT

This is an important idea that needs to be expanded on in the strategy. Which institutions e.g. large/small businesses, colleges, are to be approached? Is the creation of this forum underway?

RECOMMENDATION: Advertise this project widely and encourage the forum to come forward with new initiatives.

Chapter 6: MAKING BEST USE OF PRIVATE SECTOR ACCOMMODATION

COMMENTS on management of HMOs

We welcome the commitment in the Consultation Document to improved enforcement of controls over houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) including the commitment to require HMOs to meet Energy Level 3 from April 2018. However more specific commitments are needed.

It is estimated that less than half of all HMOs in Oxford are legally licensed as they should be. While Oxford does better than some other local authorities in enforcing HMO licensing, with 25 prosecutions a year as compared with a national average per local authority of less than 2 a year, much more is needed.

It is intolerable that landlords are able to continue to make large profits by letting properties without the basic safety and amenity standards required for licensing as an HMO.

Nevertheless, we consider that HMOs are an effective way of providing housing for people, provided that they are operating to good standards.

RECOMMENDATION1:
We would urge the Council to set an ambitious target to increase the number of HMOs which are properly licensed by 500 a year in each of the next three years. Meeting that target would still not ensure that all HMOs in Oxford are licensed, but would represent a substantial improvement on the present situation.

RECOMMENDATION 2:

We believe that good use can be made of the new powers introduced by the Housing and Planning Act 2016 for local authorities to impose civil penalties.   These powers are more time-consuming to operate than a prosecution in the magistrate’s court, but can ensure meaningful penalties of up to £30,000, the proceeds of which can be retained by the local authority (unlike fines imposed after conviction in court). Imposition of substantial civil penalties should enable additional staff to be funded to ensure the enforcement of the licensing provisions and other laws relating to safety of rented housing, and should also encourage many more landlords to register voluntarily.

RECOMMENDATION 3:

As well as campaigning for better-regulated HMOs the Council should promote better quality HMOs as a good choice for young working people wanting to live in Oxford.

The Council should encourage the supply of HMOs. This should include new build HMOs, given that HMOs can be particularly effective at using space well.

RECOMMENDATION 4: 

University and College owned HMOs are exempted from consideration in the H&HS. It would be helpful in creating an accurate picture of how HMOs are spread across the City if University/College HMOs could be listed and included in the overall figures, preferably on a ward basis.

COMMENTS on Bringing Empty Buildings back into use

It was not immediately clear from the H&HS draft what the exact nature of the empty homes in the area was. Is buy-to-leave investing a big problem? Or is it more the case that properties are left derelict with landlords lacking the necessary funds to invest in renovation for renting purposes? It seemed that the latter case was the more prevalent.

Penalty measures are a possibility:

1.Empty Homes Premium

There have been proposals by certain councils to advance the council tax rise of 50% for an unrented, vacant property from two years to a year. The problem with this in dealing with wealthy home owners seems clear: an additional sum of £1000 per year is unlikely to discourage them, whether the council tax rise occurs after two years or one.

2.Penalty fines

This was a London Borough’s response to discovering 300 properties left empty on Bishop’s Avenue, as revealed by the gap in the electoral register. The Borough put forward plans to enable it to fine landlords £60,000 if a property was not regularly rented.

3.EDMOS

On the evidence of history, the use of Empty Management Dwelling orders seems to be exceptionally rare.

There are also schemes to encourage landlords to renovate their properties and make them ready for rent. Awareness is the key thing. If landlords were more aware of the antisocial significance of leaving a property empty, and the council more proactive in getting involved, and citizens were more aware of the possibility of reporting the issue to an EPO, change would happen.

RECOMMENDATION !:

A greater appeal to the community to report empty housing. Currently there is no general awareness of empty housing as an issue. An easily googleable option for a proactive citizen (‘report empty house oxford’) could bring up the telephone number for the Empty Properties Officer, who could then be contacted by email or phone.

RECOMMENDATION 2:

A visible PR campaign, encouraging residents to report empty housing, and thereby develop a consciousness of the issue, would be effective, and in particular would stimulate landlord awareness.

RECOMMENDATION 3:

A greater number of officers. Our expectation would be that, as soon as the council gets in touch with landlords, things would begin to happen. In this scenario, there would need to be an increased number of officers to engage with landlords.

COMMENTS on Short Term Rentals and AirBnBs

Housing costs in Oxford have risen markedly in real terms in recent years. This is driven by macro economic factors, but also by local ones that the city council may choose to influence. In a compact tourist city with limited hotel and hostel accommodation, short-term rental of furnished apartments is extremely lucrative. With the rise of websites such as AirBnB (not mentioned in H&HS), a significant and rising number of properties are being marketed as short-term rentals, reducing property supply and thereby driving up prices for residents. A series of searches carried out on the AirBnB platform suggests there are over 300 whole properties currently available for rent in Oxford. This is likely to be an underestimate owing to the presence of other platforms. Importantly, AirBnB rentals appear to be increasing at a significant rate [1] (data from London).

Short term rentals are also associated with other harmful consequences, such as pop-up brothels, with a UK parliament investigation imminent [2]. Cities such as Barcelona [3], Berlin [4], London [5], Amsterdam [5] and others have recognised the problem and have all restricted AirBnB to varying levels.

RECOMMENDATION: Oxford should adopt a similar approach to London, requiring AirBnB and other short term rental companies to limit the number of days per year that a property can be rented on the platform (max 90). This would be a reasonable compromise: allowing property owners to make income when not residing in the propery, while limiting the desirability of buy-to- short-let properties [5]. Short-let rentals that are properly registered in terms of planning would of course be exempt.

 

Response prepared by the Housing & Homelessness sub-committee

Liz Wade, Paul Harris, Ed Martineau, Nick Harding

1 November 2017

Parking permits in Gathorne Road: response to consultation

The owner of flats which obtained planning permission on condition that they were car-free has applied to have eligibility for Controlled Parking Zone permits restored for his tenants. This arises from a recent appeal case in which the planning inspector found in his favour.

A consultation has just finished on whether the Traffic Order for Headington Central CPZ should be altered to include eligibility for tenants in these flats for parking permits.

Altaf and Ruth have sent the following response as City Councillors for Headington Ward. The final decision on whether this change will be approved will be made by Cllr Yvonne Constance at her Cabinet Member Decision meeting on the 12th October at County Hall.

If the change is approved, there will be more local pressure on the planning authority to turn down applications in roads well-served by public transport due to insufficient space for parking or resultant harm to neighbour amenity from additional parking pressure.

Submission to consultation re change to Headington Central controlled parking zone order: Wingfield House (Flats 1-6)

As city councillors for Headington Ward, we are writing to object most strongly to the proposed changes to the (HEADINGTON CENTRAL) (CONTROLLED PARKING ZONE AND VARIOUS RESTRICTIONS) (VARIATION No. 32) ORDER 20 which seeks to restore the above Gathorne Road properties to full permit eligibility. We set out our concerns below.

  • We believe that the County Council should not be encouraging the use of cars in areas that are excellently served by frequent public transport, especially at a time when the Access to Headington project is facilitating better space for cyclists, and when concerns from our residents about air quality in the area are increasing. The advent of Rapid Transit buses will improve travel for Headington residents still further, and there is a successful car-share scheme currently in operation in the area.
  • Applications to intensify or change the use of flats and HMOs in this area have been permitted by the planning authority including councillors on East Area Planning Committee only on condition that these are car-free developments. Gathorne Road is close to excellent public transport routes in and out of Oxford, the airports and London.
  • There are currently only 18 dwellings in Gathorne Road; on-road parking spaces are already under pressure both from existing permit-holders, and from hospital and care workers seeking to access the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre and a Gathorne Road property for tenants with special needs. The removal of some on-road parking spaces in Windmill Road as part of the Access to Headington scheme is likely to shift parking to adjoining residential roads including Gathorne Road. The restoration of permit eligibility to tenants in these six properties would reduce on-road parking availability for current Gathorne Road permit-holders, and potentially shift parking pressure to St Anne’s Road nearby, thus impacting negatively on permit-holders there too.
  • We are anxious that this proposed change arising from what we feel to have been a questionable inspector decision does not serve as a precedent for the Headington area, which contains a very large number of shared houses, HMOs and flats which have only received permission for build or change of use on condition that they are car-free. We recognise that it is most unusual for a local authority to challenge an appeal decision by a planning inspector, but we feel that the arguments for exempting these properties from eligibility for the CPZ are overwhelming.

We urge the Cabinet Member to oppose this change and ask her to continue to exempt these properties from full permit eligibility in the Headington Central CPZ.

Altaf-Khan and Ruth Wilkinson             29/09/17

Here is the submission from County Cllr Roz Smith, submitted 3/10/17

Submission to consultation re change to Headington Central controlled parking zone order: Wingfield House (Flats 1-6), Gathorne Road, Headington, Oxford

 

With advice from Oxfordshire County Council, Oxford City Council planning committee put a condition on this property that it should be exempt from parking permits, i.e. a car free development. The condition was sensible given the proximity of regular public transport, local services within easy walking distance, (GP, Dental, library, schools etc.) plus an active car sharing scheme.

The owner has now appealed this condition and it seems an ill-informed planning inspector found in his favour. This was a shock, given the pressure on the few residents parking spaces within Gathorne Road, nearby St Anne’s and Margaret Roads. If allowed, we could see as many as 12 more vehicles competing for the 18 spaces in Gathorne Road and the few spaces in surrounding area.

Many homes do not have off road parking and the Access to Headington project will see even more pressure when residential spaces in Windmill Road are removed. The detailed work around removal of parking spaces in Windmill Road undertaken by county officers with consultation with residents and local councillors will be undermined by allowing parking eligibility for the Wingfield House development.

The stated aim of Access to Headington is to encourage use of sustainable means of transport. If this change to the eligibility for parking permits is allowed then I envisaged a raft of appeals for changes to parking conditions within the City’s controlled parking zones.

I concur with my city councillor colleagues that if this change is approved then it will be more difficult for the local planning authority, (Oxford City Council), to turn down applications and for the County Council to further its aim of reducing the high volume of vehicle movements within the City.

I recognise it will be unusual, but not the first time, that a local authority to challenge an appeal decision by a planning inspector. However, I feel the arguments for exempting these properties from the eligibility for parking permits in the Headington CPZ are overwhelming and I urge the Cabinet member to continue the exemption for this development.

Cllr Roz Smith

County Councillor for Headington & Quarry

Notice of proposal to change parking in Latimer Road

The County Council has given notice of proposals to amend the traffic regulation order for parking in Latimer Road pursuant to the conditions given to planning consent for the Beech House development and adjacent maisonettes.

Here is the map of what is proposed. Comments must be directed to

Traffic and Road Safety Team (Ref.MR) for Director for Communities, Oxfordshire County Council, County Hall, Oxford, OX1 1ND

by the 29th September

 

Response to consultation: B4495 Windmill Road (Oxford) Proposed 20mph Speed Limit

Here are our comments in respect of the proposal to introduce a 20MPH speed limit in B4495 Windmill Road, Headington which we have sent to the County Council. Please note that this consultation is entirely separate from works in Windmill Road and surrounding streets associated with the Access to Headington project.

We have discussed this issue with residents in the affected area on doorsteps, at street surgeries and at public meetings. There is broad support in the area for the introduction of a 20 MPH limit throughout the whole of Windmill Road to minimise risk of road accidents and facilitate better and safer amenity for residents. We know that Windmill Road Residents’ Action Group and the governors at Windmill Primary School support this proposal.

A significant number of those residents favouring the 20 MPH limit have indicated to us that they would also like to see more robust speed limit enforcement. We are discussing these concerns with the Thames Valley Police Neighbourhood Team who have offered to make available speed indication devices for community speed watch operations. Various police speeding operations have taken place in the area over the recent past and a number of speeding tickets were issued.

We support the proposal to introduce a 20 MPH limit along the whole length of Windmill Road.

Cllrs Roz Smith, Altaf-Khan and Ruth Wilkinson

 

Exhibitions at the railway station concourse

There will be exhibitions of the plans relating to the development of Oxford Railway station and the surrounding area at the station concourse on the following dates:

Oxford Station concourse

  •  Wednesday 12th July to Friday 14th July; on Friday 14th July council officers as well as technical consultants will be available to discuss the proposals (9.00am – 12.00pm and 3.00pm – 6.00pm),
  • Wednesday 26th July to 28th July, on Saturday 29th July council officers as well as technical consultants will be available to discuss the proposals (9.00am – 12.00pm and 3.00pm – 6.00pm),
  • Wednesday 9th August to 11th August, on Saturday 12th August council officers as well as technical consultants will be available to discuss the proposals (9.00am – 12.00pm and 3.00pm – 6.00pm)

Town Hall(Long Room)

  • Saturday 12th August – a drop-in session for the public and stakeholders to meet council officers and the technical consultants

The online consultation is available here: https://consultation.oxford.gov.uk/consult.ti/StationSPD/consultationHome and it ends on 25th August.

The plans are currently unfunded.

Windmill Rd 20 MPH limit is hot topic at Ward Focus Meeting Tuesday 25 July

The County Council intends to make Windmill Road 20 MPH. It is carrying out a consultation on this currently (see below post)

We shall be listening closely to the views of our residents at the Ward Focus meeting on 25th July at All Saints Church House, New High Street 6:00-7:30 on this, and will be conducting street surgeries in the area, details to be announced shortly.

Once we have a clear understanding of residents’ views, we shall submit a response to the consultation – do get in touch with us to raise your issues. We already know and understand that a large number of residents believe that a speed limit can only be effective if there is enforcement too.

 

Oxford Local Plan 2036 consultation now live

Members of the public are invited to take part in the consultation on the Preferred Options main document for the emerging Oxford Local Plan 2036.

The consultation is open from 30 June to 25 August, Oxford City Council states:

The Oxford Local Plan 2036 will become the main planning policy document for Oxford. The Local Plan is important because it will set out how we want our city to look and feel, guiding new developments to the right locations whilst protecting and improving the environment and people’s quality of life. 

Last summer we asked you what issues the new Local Plan should cover. We have listened to what local communities, businesses and other organisations told us and are now considering a range of policy options. The Preferred Options document gives you the chance to comment on our proposed approaches to a range of issues. The consultation period runs from 30th June 2017 until the 25th August 2017. 

On our website (www.oxford.gov.uk/localplan) we have published the main Preferred Options document, background papers and studies on key issues, and a draft sustainability appraisal. There is the opportunity to respond to the main document using our detailed questionnaire online, or to complete the shorter online questionnaire. If you prefer to respond in writing or email, please send to Planning Policy at the address above.

Paper copies of the main Preferred Options document and the draft Sustainability Appraisal are available to view in libraries and St Aldate’s Chambers. In St Aldate’s Chambers we also have paper copies of all the background papers and studies on the website. We also have a consultation leaflet and questionnaire available at libraries, leisure centres, community centres and the Town Hall. 

You can come and see us at events around the city during the consultation period:
Fri 4th August: Templars Square Shopping Centre 11-1.30
Sat 15th July: Headington Funday 2-5; Bury Knowle Park

We urge residents to take a look at the consultation document which is available online and at Bury Knowle Library. Headington residents may be particularly interested in the sections on affordable housing, key worker housing, student accommodation, the use of space in district centres, and sites earmarked for further development.

At a recent briefing to community groups, residents from across Oxford raised some interesting points and comments which included:

  • Is the city council working with planning authorities in neighbouring districts to solve housing crisis?
  • Why is the city council appearing to want a no car policy?
  • What is affordable housing? Should be for those earning c £26K
  • How do we stop private investors buying up all the new build properties?
  • Is there too much emphasis on growth?
  • Why hasn’t some land been allocated specifically for community-led housing groups?
  • Are you saying it’s ok to put up high rise buildings so long as air quality doesn’t get worse?
  • What do you mean by a “tall” building? There’s a 15 storey one proposed for Templars Square at EAPC next week
  • Height limit/constraint for buildings shouldn’t just be in the city centre – consistency and good design is needed
  • Does the consultation adequately take into account the thousands who work or study in Oxford but live elsewhere?
  • Won’t reorganization affect the local plan? More needed for cyclists.
  • See p175 – balance of use in district centres has changed from A1 to Class A so more cafes/fast food/restaurants in Headington and Summertown?
  • Could consent for developments include a condition for car clubs?
  • What can be done about Airbnb?
  • Classification of HMOs – an HMO owned, managed and run by the universities does not count as an HMO for the planning stats, but an HMO owned by a landlord and rented out does. Currently, a road almost full of HMOs containing students had an application to change a property from residential to HMO approved as it was the only private HMO in the street. Change of definition needed?
  • With the emphasis on creating purpose-built HMOs, will private landlords intensify build on their existing sites as this will bring them increased income?

The Local Plan preferred options will be a major topic for debate at the next Headington Ward Focus meeting on Tuesday 25 July from 6:00-7:30pm at All Saints Church House.

Lib Dem response to Oxford City Centre transport improvements and experimental Queen Street closure consultation

Here is the response to the above from the Liberal Democrat Group on Oxford City Council and from Oxfordshire County Councillors Paul Buckley and John Howson. Please click on this link for the full consultation documents

 

Our principal concern about these proposals is that we do not believe that the safety of pedestrians and cyclists is given high enough priority in a very busy tourist, visitor and employment centre.

We believe that the overall cost-benefit of these proposals is too small; we note that the cost of the changes will be nearly £1m but this is not fully funded. What is the shortfall and where will it come from? These proposals are submitted without any apparent agreement with the County Council about funding, and without reference to Cil contributions. Is the City expected to contribute and, if so, in what proportion.

We are concerned that no evidence is supplied with this consultation document to support this package of major transport changes. It is therefore not clear what the problems are which the ‘permanent’ transport measures and the ‘experimental’ closure of Queen Street would seek to remedy.

We believe that the proposed change to the Worcester Street junction is over-engineered.

There is no mention of the proposed Worcester Street bus gate, which would impact heavily on this plan. If it is to be introduced, the pros and cons need to be taken into account at this stage.

 

Our comments on the individual area plans are detailed below:

  1. Overview Plan – Queen Street Area (Oxford) Various Traffic Proposals
  • The development of Becket Street as a bus lay-in and start point for key services such as routes to London would alleviate congestion in the George Street/Worcester Street area and could be implemented ahead of the current scheme for the Railway Station outlined in the City Council’s supplementary planning document.
  • An increased number of bus stops cannot help but increase congestion.
  • We would like to see an increased number of air quality monitoring stations set up to aid evaluation of environmental impact throughout the ‘experimental’ period. We would like to see figures for air pollution in St Aldates and The High Street over the last 12 months, for comparison purposes with results over the next 12 months.
  • Accident data has not been included within these proposals and we would find this helpful to inform decision-making.

 

  1. Consultation Plan – High Street Bus, Taxi & Loading Bays
  • There is currently pedestrian congestion at temporary bus stops in High Street outside the covered market. As a result the entrances to the covered market are less visible. Waiting passengers obstruct shop windows and doorways, and passers by and tour groups get mixed up with bus queues moving forward to board buses.
  • There is also a negative impact on heritage. St Aldates and The High Street are two of the most architecturally significant streets in the City. Waiting buses will impede views for tourists and citizens and this proposal does not preserve or enhance the central conservation area.

 

 

  1. Consultation Plan – St. Aldates / High Street Changes to Waiting Restrictions
  • ‘No waiting’ restrictions outside the Town Hall need greater enforcement, has funding been set aside for this purpose?

 

  1. Consultation Plan – Proposed Taxi Turning Area in Cornmarket Street

We strongly object to this proposal on a number of grounds.

  • Concerns about the width of the street when taxis perform U-turns
  • Concerns for safety as this is an area heavily used by pedestrians and by cyclists who are allowed to ride down the street after 6pm
  • Impact on street entertainment and events held in that location which helps attract trade to that area
  • The number of taxis allowed on the rank at one time is not set out here. The number of taxis in Queen Street currently in the evenings is so great that some park on the opposite side of the road too, and we are concerned that the proposed taxi rank space appears unrestricted
  • The present location is nearer the new Westgate shopping development

We consider that the existing taxi rank at the eastern end of Queen Street should be retained and/or that the new Westgate Centre should provide a taxi rank.

 

  1. Consultation Plan – George Street / Worcester Street Proposed Junction Layout Amendments 

We object to some of the proposed changes because the proposals do not sufficiently address the flow of pedestrians, which is heavy at this point because this is a major route to and from the railway station.

  • We can see no evidence for taking away the existing crossing facility in Hythe Bridge Street
  • We accept that cyclists need more protection at the Worcester St junction, but we believe there should be better solution than the use of a traffic island next to a pelican crossing
  • The traffic island proposed will narrow the turning into Worcester St from Hythe Bridge St, making it very difficult for lorries to manage the turning. Pedestrians will use this traffic island as a way of avoiding waiting for the lights – to the danger of all
  • Taxis are not mentioned on this drawing but they usually use bus lanes, will they be able to use the bus left turn cut-throughs?

 

  1. Consultation Plan – Park End St / New Rd / Worcester St Proposed Zebra Crossings
  • There is insufficient evidence of pedestrian desire to access Upper Fisher Row (this is a footpath – no vehicle access) to justify a new zebra crossing at the entrance from Park End Street, and a crossing here would impede traffic flow.
  • Bus flow is impeded at the junction of Worcester Street and Park End Street. Consideration should be given to making this a No Right Turn

 

  1. Consultation Plan – Speedwell Street / St. Aldates Proposed Zebra Crossings
  • We have concerns about the safety of cyclists (a) turning right from St Aldates into Speedwell Street across the path of incoming buses, and (b) travelling north across the path of buses turning right into Speedwell Street.
  • We believe that the retention of lights here, operational at peak times, would provide an additional safety measure for those choosing to cycle to and from work and study

 

  1. Consultation Plan – Bus Lay-Over Bay Speedwell Street

We support this proposal.

 

  1. Consultation Plan – Park End St / Hythe Bridge St Additional Bus Facilities

We object to these proposals for the following reasons:

  • It is proposed to locate bus stops immediately opposite each other in Park End Street. If both sets of bus stops are being used at once, the width of the road would be insufficient for traffic to flow.
  • There is insufficient evidence that an extra bus stop is needed in Hythe Bridge Street outside Fusion. The road is not wide enough and cycle safety is an important issue here as it is a well-used route. R9 in Hythe Bridge St should be removed and replaced with use of the double bus stop on the north side of Park End St. These buses are at their route end, approaching their lay-over in New Road, and will be carrying few passengers beyond the city centre, so the marginal extra distance to Park End St is preferable to the problem which would be caused by a bus stop on the south side of Hythe Bridge St.
  • Insufficient cost benefit to install a zebra crossing on Park End Street at its junction with Fisher Row (see note above)

 

Information Plan – Proposed Changes to Bus Stop Locations (DRAFT)

Information Document – Provisional Bus Stop Allocations (DRAFT)

Buses from Blackbird Leys, Barton, Marston and Wood Farm will stop directly outside Westgate shopping centre but the 3,3A and the 16 from Littlemore and Rose Hill will terminate at St Aldate’s on the way into town. The 16 appears to have to run along High Street to the Plain for no other reason than to turn round at the end of its route to pick up at Carfax, which does not appear to be energy efficient. Neither of these services access the railway station as Rose Hill residents had been promised.

In conclusion, our view is that:  

  • When the Gloucester Green coach station was planned, the longer, larger, more frequent coaches that now use it were not envisaged. Insufficient thought was given in the planning of the new Westgate to the effect on an already congested public transport situation in the city centre.
  • A solution to traffic problems in the city centre depends on relocating the Gloucester Green bus station. We would propose the Becket St parking site, with a shuttle service into the centre.
  • The longer term impact of these proposals, if they are not modified as we propose, will be to concentrate the flow of transport to suit retail and restaurant use in one part of the City (Westgate) to the detriment of businesses in other parts of the City.

We do not support permanent pedestrianisation of Queen Street which has less culturally significant architecture and heritage than St Aldates and The High Street.

 

Sent to Oxfordshire County Council 20 June 2017

Consultation on City Centre traffic proposals (including no buses in Queen Street)

 

The  proposed Traffic Regulation Orders for the County’s latest proposals have been advertised in the Oxford Times today; Thursday 25th May 2017, and are also available on the Council’s consultation pages below.

Click here to view the revised proposals and have your say.

Oxfordshire County Council consulted during 2016 on proposals to remove the buses from Queen Street and various related changes in the city centre. A number of comments and objections were received in response, so the county council has now developed revised proposals which seek to address the feedback it received in the previous consultations.

The revised proposals being put forward consist of two elements:

  1. Experimental closure of Queen Street to buses, taxis, and private hire vehicles, for a period of 18 months from October 2017
  1. Permanent public transport infrastructure, pedestrian, cycle and traffic management improvements in the city centre.  These improvements would remain in place whether or not Queen Street remains closed after the 18 month experimental period.

This consultation is primarily about the permanent changes and the associated Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) that are required to implement them. However, comments are also invited on the proposals for the experimental Queen Street closure, but note that you will also be able to comment on the closure at any time during the first six months of the experimental period, starting in October 2017.  Comments received during this time, along with other evidence gathered, will be considered by the council before a decision is made on whether or not to make the experimental closure permanent, this will occur at the Council’s Cabinet meeting on the 18 July 2017.

Arrangements can also be made so that you can view the proposals in person at: County Hall, New Road, Oxford, OX1 1ND, between 9am and 4.30pm Monday to Friday.

Please note that the deadline for responses is 23 June 2017

Ruth is working on a response to these proposals on behalf of City Lib Dem Group. Please copy her into any comments you may have. The bus companies are not happy with some of the proposals and the removal of buses from Queen Street is of particular concern for public transport users.

Daytime support consultation -have your say

Find out more about the County Council’s proposals for a new, flexible system of daytime support across the county, and share your views on the options that have been proposed.

Book your place at one of their meetings.

Call 01865 323410 or email daytimesupportreview@oxfordshire.gov.uk. The County Council can organise transport for you or pay travelling costs if required.

Oxford

Tuesday 22 November 2016, 12.30pm – 2:30pm
West Oxford Community Centre, Botley Rd, Oxford OX2 0BT

Banbury

Wednesday 23 November, 12.30pm – 2:30pm Banbury Town Hall, 1 Bridge St, Banbury OX16 5QB

For more information – visit their website or pick up a consultation pack at a daytime support centre or library.
Closing date for comments: 20 December 2016