Planning decisions – will they listen?

Full Council meets at 4 pm on Monday 15 December to discuss a proposal that has been driven through by the Labour administration without any consultation with the public. Nor has there been any consultation with Group leaders of opposition parties or the Chairs and Vice-Chairs of area committees. The proposal is to take away the powers of the area committee members (local City councillors) to make decisions on planning applications in wards they represent. The administration and officers have also refused to let this badly-argued paper be properly examined by the main scrutiny committee.

This proposal spurns local democracy

  • You have emailed us and told us this proposal will not result in better decisions
  • You have phoned us and told us this proposal will not save money
  • You have written to us and told us this proposal will turn away local people from getting involved as active citizens
  • You have organized written and verbal statements to full Council to tell all councillors that making changes like this without engaging with the community is fundamentally wrong

But will they listen? We will know Monday night.

Do planning decisions matter to you?

Nowadays we are called ‘front-line’ councillors because much of our work is in on the doorstep. But there are times when what happens outside Headington, in the Town Hall, needs must take up the attention of councillors — and residents. It can be a frustrating distraction, but when the Council announces it intends to undermine radically the way things work and hinder the job of ward councillors, then it’s time to fight back.

One of those times is now. Much of the casework both Ruth and myself pursue relates to planning issues, because residents know that we, like all councillors, sit on our local Area Committee where planning decisions are made. But the Labour administration wants to stop that and take planning away from local decision-making. Not only that, but they want to do it without even going through the must basic process of consultation. So, earlier this week I wrote to some of my local residents for whom I’ve worked on planning issues. Here is what I said:

Dear Headington resident,


I am writing to you as you are one of the many people I have attempted to help in the past over a planning issue that has concerned you. Unfortunately, in the future, it will be more much difficult for me to be of assistance – if Labour at the Town Hall get their way.


Here is the background. At the moment, a large or controversial application can be heard in the local community, with local residents having their voice heard and their local councillors making the decision in front of them, at the Area Committee. Labour’s proposal is to stop that happening. They argue that this is inefficient and that planning should be decided away from the local area. They also want to decrease the number of councillors who can vote on planning. That will mean that councillors like me who are interested in working for the best interests of their patch but would not want to stick their nose into areas of the city they know less well will be excluded from all planning decision-making. They argue that instead a councillor like me could be an ‘advocate.’ They don’t seem to realise that councillors who are not making planning decisions are soon going to be out of touch with the changing demands of planning law and end up being unreliable advocates.


So, if I have helped you with advice before a planning meeting, if I have asked questions prompted by your concerns at an Area Committee, if I have appeared on behalf of you at a Planning Appeal, I have been glad to do all that and believe that, working with you, we have achieved some successes. But Labour want this to stop.


If this is the first you’ve heard of all this, that’s a mark of what makes this even worse: Labour are trying to push through this significant change without even consulting Oxford’s residents. They have made no attempt to ask the local people who go to Area Committees or who write in about planning applications what they would prefer.


Is there anything that can be done to stop this mean-spirited, half-baked plan? I will certainly be working hard to force Labour actually to consult and to listen to what local people say. You can help by writing to any Labour councillors you know asking them not to vote with their party on this key issue. But this is urgent: Labour have set a date of 15th December for a decision to be made.


If all this sounds party-political, I’m afraid it’s unavoidable. It is a Labour administration who are attempting to force this through – and, from what I’ve seen, it’s all too  typical of their top-down attitude, telling people what is good for them, rather than letting people decide what they think will work for them.


And if I sound angry, that’s because I am. I have served Headington for more than six years, with planning being one of the ever-present issues in my post-bag. I don’t take kindly to being told part of my job is no longer any of my business.


I’ve been amazed by the level of reaction. One of the reasons that I want there to be proper consultation on this issue before a decision is made is because I really wouldn’t want to second-guess local opinion on this matter. But even I am surprised and relieved by the level of interest there is in planning and the desire to keep it local — coming from people of all persuasions and none.

At the moment, my own opinion is that there are three failings in what is proposed. First, it won’t do what it says on the packet: what’s proposed won’t achieve the savings or the ‘improved efficiency’ that is supposed to be its purpose. But that’s a problem for Labour who have come up with a plan which to my mind, and in the opinion of many local residents who have written to me, is wrong in principle: it flies in the face of the talk of community engagement which, it now appears, is empty rhetoric on their government’s part. But my own opinion is now — as it is whenever I discuss a particular planning application with objectors or the applicant — only tentative and provisional. Because my third point is that this is no way to make such an important decision. Consultation must come first. And I don’t mean consultation Tory-style where the County Council asks people a question and then ignores the answer. I want the Council on which I sit to be better than that: it should both give people the chance to comment and actually listen to the responses. Is it too much to ask for that? We will see on Monday.



Royal Mail: delivery times

Here is a response from the Royal Mail Delivery Centre Manager about the enquiry I picked up on the Headington and Marston Forum about 48 hour delivery delays:

I am sorry that it has taken me so long to get back to you on this. It has
been extremely hectic at this end. I have had discussion with a couple of
my delivery officers and I think that they were being over cautious when
they put 48 hours on the card. We have had a few occasions when 24 hours
has been put on the card and for whatever reason the item has not been
ready for collection. I think on this occasion the postman concerned was
just trying to avoid the customer a wasted journey to the delivery office.
I will be telling the staff in Headington to ensure that they only place 24
hours onto the docket cards from here on in. I will also be reviewing the
process that we follow for the collection of “docket left” items in the
Headington section to ensure that we do not have any more instances of
packets taking longer than 24 hours to be ready for collection.

During the Christmas period we are going to be operating revised hours for
our callers office and I was hoping that you could also put this on the

Mon – Fri 06:30 – 19:30 (8/12 – 23/12)

Saturdays 06:30 – 17:30 (13/12 and 20/12)

Christmas Eve 06:30 – 14:00

The cards that we received from the printers have incorrect dates on them
and only show the additional hours from next week. However we will still be
open as advertised above.

We are also offering the Local Collect service for free over the festive
period. Local Collect is the facility to have items (not special Delivery
items or Royal Mail tracked items) delivered to a local post-office so that
customers can pick the items up from there.

Lights out in Headington!

Scottish and Southern Electric have confirmed that the recent spate of power blackouts in Osler Road/London Road, Headington have definitely been caused by a fault with an underground cable and have had nothing to do with the Christmas lights.

SSE explained further blackouts have occurred because a fuse has been blown associated with the load being too high; this is likely to have occurred due to a particular business tripping the power with a new piece of equipment. SSE Engineers are currently onsite trying to trace the exact source of the problem.

Should any of the businesses in Headington want to contact SSE directly, they need to ring 0800 072 7282 (emergency number if another power blackout occurs) or 01865 845 800 (for general information). The caller will need to give SSE their address details including postcode so they can track the job and provide the most up to date information

Water Watch – action in St Andrew’s Road

At eight o’clock last night, a big tanker lorry turned up with hoses in order to clear the manhole  in St Andrews Road, at the corner of Laurel Farm Close.  Thames Water has jetted the sewer at high pressure.

If you live nearby, and have been experiencing problems with either sewage or drainage, please keep David and me informed about how things are going – it would be good to know if this jetting has cleared the problem!

UPDATE!  Thames Water rang me today to advise that the sewer cleaning in St Andrew’s Road is scheduled to take up to 10 days from 4 December

Bus proposals in County Plan

There seems to be some movement in the County Council’s Transform Oxford proposals on buses. More details can be found on their website but I have copied and pasted an extract below. David and I attended a meeting at County Hall last week and asked some questions about bus services for East Oxford residents that seemed to provoke some irritated comments, and it seemed to me that the public transport proposals for East Oxford are causing considerable concern and re-consideration. I wonder if there is scope in this text for bus routes to operate into Oxford City Centre from East Oxford? See what you think!

So far, we believe that there are three options for achieving a reduction in bus flow in High Street and St Aldate’s:
Re-route certain services that do not necessarily need to use the High Street and St Aldate’s to other routes – for example Abingdon Road or Marston Ferry Road and Banbury Road. Because of the detours involved, this approach may only be appropriate for a limited number of services but will still help us achieve a reduction in bus flows.

Use larger vehicles to serve the routes that feed into the High Street, but reduce the service frequencies – i.e. carry the same number of passengers on fewer, larger vehicles. This could mean significantly fewer vehicles not only in the city centre but throughout the routes into the city from the east.

Use “normal” size buses to serve the routes that feed into the High Street but terminate those buses to the east of the High Street. There are two points where routes converge – at The Plain and at London Place. There appears to be scope at both locations to create an appropriately landscaped terminus. Travel onwards into the city centre would then be by a very high capacity, high frequency (leaving at least every five minutes) transfer bus (some vehicles are available that take almost four full “normal” bus loads) or on foot or, possibly, by a hired bike.

Options 2 or 3, probably in conjunction with option 1, could result in at least a 50% reduction in bus flows in High Street and St Aldate’s.
From a passenger’s perspective, option 1 could mean longer journey times. Option 2 means lower service frequencies but no need to interchange; option 3 maintains high frequency services but means an interchange. Making the options work well for passengers is clearly vital and that will be the focus of our work.

We will consult stakeholders and the public on these options to try to find the right balance between convenience for bus passengers and local environmental improvements.
Because of the huge amount of work involved, we are not expecting to deliver major bus reductions in High Street and St Aldate’s before 2011.

Cuckoo Lane: wall to be made safe

David and I have contacted the City’s senior structural engineer regarding a wall in Cuckoo Lane which appears to be in danger of collapse  between Osler Road and Old High Street

He has now met the owner who was aware of the problem and keen to take
action but unsure of how to proceed.  He has given her contact details for a local stonemason who is the Council’s first choice for any similar work and phoned the stonemason later to advise him that the wall should be made safe as a matter of urgency.

Some cones have been placed in the area, presumably by the County, in an attempt to keep pedestrians away from  the immediate area. Unfortunately Cuckoo Lane is very narrow and any falling masonry would be likely to spill beyond the coned-off area, so he has suggested that the County consider closing this part of the lane until the wall is made safe.

We will update this post once we have more details from the County

Reminder: temporary closure of Sandfield Road

Just to remind everyone that the London Road entrance to Sandfield Road will be closed for one week from 4 December because of roadworks – signs are in place already.

Our latest information from the County Highways Dept indicates that the closure will be for three days only from 2 December in order for gas pipes to be laid. This information conflicts with the red and white sign at the end of the road and we are trying to find out why!

Got a parking problem?

The contract for monitoring car parking in Residents’ Parking Zones has been transferred from APCOA to NCP.

The telephone number to contact NCP is 0845 337 1138. There are various
options to chose from such as

Help Line 0845 337 1138

Option 1 Payments
Option 2 Parking Shop
Option 3 Control Room (to report an illegally parked vehicle or to request parking information)
Option 4 NP (PCN queries)
Option 5 Oxfordshire County Council
Option 6 Suspensions

I will post this up as a sticky link on the left hand toolbar shortly