Is the Green Belt sacred?


This is the title of an interesting article in this week’s “Total politics” magazine about the importance of the Green Belt. Some figures are quoted by the Chief Economist at Policy Exchange that are quite surprising.

Which of these would you agree with?

75% of England is developed

50% of England is developed

25% of England is developed

15% of England is developed

or less than the above?

The answer is that, although 54% of survey respondents thought half of England was developed, the real answer (including garden space in cities) is 9.8%.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Special Protection Areas, Special Areas of Conservation, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks account for 55.2% of England’s land.

More than 1.6m hectares in England (12.9% of land) is classed as Green Belt.

It’s important that we discuss the issues around the Green Belt in a measured, non-emotive and rational way. Local residents are best placed to consider housing and other economic needs in our communities, not national government. We need to keep up pressure on central government to give us greater powers of decision-making in any future review of the County’s Green Belt.

The Big Tidy Up

Fed up with litter? Like to make where you live a better place? Well now’s your big chance. Keep Britain Tidy is launching the Big Tidy Up, the country’s biggest ever litter tidy up!   Oxford City Council and Oxforshire Waste Partnership are supporting the Big Tidy Up and we are encouraging people to have their tidy up in September 2008, however tidy ups can happen anytime throughout the year.  Schools, groups, businesses, or even just you and your neighbours – lets all get together and have a great Big Tidy Up! 

Go to the Oxfordshire Waste Partnership website to register

All tidy up groups will be entered into the draw which takes place at the end of September with one lucky group winning £250


David and I helped the New Headington residents tidy up in Kennett Road last year, don’t forget to let us know the dates and times of your Big Tidy Up events! We’re keen to help.

Manor Ground development – watch this space!

Those brave enough to stay till the end of the North East Area Committee meeting on Tuesday will have noted that David and I pushed hard for action on the Manor Ground development scheme.  Beech Road residents have made it clear to us that they are disappointed that the promised affordable housing units have not yet been built and made available for use.

We have secured the Area Committee’s backing to call for a progress report from the Head of City Development.  Our Area Co-ordinator Angela Cristofoli is arranging a meeting between officers in Planning and City Housing/Development and David and myself to agree an action plan.  We will post up more news when we have this space!

Cleaning up the underpass

Some residents have commented recently about the smell in the underpass. Ruth and I have asked the Council to get to grips with this problem and officers have responded by agreeing to a daily disinfecting of the underpass. So, hopefully, it will return to being a pleasant route avoiding the dodgems of London Road! If you have any other concerns about the underpass, do drop us a line.

Planning applications re Starbuck’s

I have been asked why the planning applications made by Starbuck’s are no longer on the Council’s planning website. This is the information I have been given by planning officers.

The original Starbuck’s planning applications have been made invalid.

The original applications were served on the owners of the building but
incorrect details were quoted.  When this was realised, Starbucks
withdrew the applications, and submitted new ones with the correct
details.  These are currently being processed by planning officers and will be added to this week’s list

This means that the applications get logged all over again  and won’t come up before North East Area Committee till November.  

Important notice for residents who have sent in comments about the original applications

You will need to send in new letters quoting the new applications. 

Letters quoting the old applications will not be considered with the new applications.

Stagecoach bus services

David and I have been invited to discuss local Stagecoach bus service issues with the managing director of Stagecoach in Oxfordshire.

Do get in touch with us with any issues, suggestions for improvements, or problems with bus services, and we will include these in the discussion.  Please add your comments to this post, or contact us directly – our contact details can be found by clicking the Contact us link on the left hand bar.

I am also contacting all residents’ associations in the ward to ask for their views.

The re-routing of the no. 10 service from Headley Way to Osler Road will be on our agenda.

Stagecoach policy on family friendly fares

At the Central and N Headington Residents’ Association meeting, a local resident asked me to investigate Stagecoach’s policy on family friendly fares. Here is their response.

 “We are very keen to attract families and therefore offer group/family fares on all our services.  An Oxford adult Dayrider ticket costs £3.50 for unlimited number of journeys for up to 24 hours.  The family version costs £6.50 for up two two adults and three children.   To put this into context at day return to the city centre from Blackbird Leys in £2.80 for an adult and £1.40 for a child.  We offer rduced rate passes for travel to.from schools and colleges and, to encourage wider use by young people, last summer we extended their validity to allow travel at weekends and duting school holidays.  On Oxford Tube, children travel free when accompanied by an adult.  We are mindful of the requirements of families and are working on a number of other ideas an initiatives to make our services as “family friendly” as possible.

Bus routes through the City Centre to North Oxford

Further to our earlier post about the Oxford Bus Company bus routes through the City, I now have a response from Stagecoach to share with Headington residents, as follows:

“We split the direct service between Headington and Kidlington last in April last year, principally because it was impossible to run it reliably through the city centre. If delays occurred on one leg of the route, they would inevitably have an impact on the other. the effect of the Green Road roundabout reconstruction was disasterous for reliability, and, in the knowledge that other schemes were on the horizon, we decided that the only option was to split the service in two. Whilst I realise that this has caused inconvenience to many people and regret this, there is little prospect of restablishing the though service.

There are major road works schemes on both London Road and through Summertown at present together with work in St Aldates. The Westgate development, when it goes ahead, will cause further disruption to services. I regret to say that, whilst I would not rule out the prospect of a return to a through service at some point in the future, there is little prospect for one at present. “

Unoccupied dwellings in the City

At our recent street surgery, David and I were asked a very good question by a ward resident: does the Council know how many flats above shops in Headington are empty, and what steps are being taken to offer them to homeless people?

I have asked officers to investigate this, and this is underway. In the meantime, I have been sent a briefing note on empty dwellings across the City that contains some interesting figures that I thought you might like to see.

Unoccupied and Council Tax Exempt as from 1.07.08

Class Description No.
A Recently built or uninhabitable due to work (time limit of 12 months) 218
B Empty and owned by charities (up to 6 months) 122
C Vacant (empty and unfurnished) (up to 6 months) 434
D Left empty by persons in detention 1
E Left empty by patients in hospitals or care homes 61
F Left empty by deceased person (for up to 6 months after probate) 155
G Unfit for habitation (where occupation prohibited by law) 9
H Unoccupied pending use by a Minister of Religion 1
I Left empty by people receiving care 10
J Left empty by people providing care 6
K Left empty by students where the students remain liable 3
L Unoccupied where the mortgagee is in possession 16
Q Responsibility of a Bankrupt’s Trustees 0
R Unoccupied caravan pitch or house boat mooring 9
T Unoccupied Annexe not capable of separate occupation (e.g. ‘Granny Flat’) 2

All properties falling within the above Council Tax exemption classes would also be exempt from intervention by the Local Housing Authority under the Housing Act 2004 (empty dwellings)

Total empty dwellings 1724
Total exempt empty dwellings for purposes of empty dwelling legislation under Housing Act 2004 1047

Therefore, of the 1724 empty dwellings, 677 may not be exempt from intervention by the Local Housing Authority. However, that figure includes 44 dwellings owned by Oxford City Council which are empty pending demolition, disposal or refurbishment, at least 35 small Housing Association flats which are to be demolished and redeveloped as family accommodation, and numerous other properties which the owners intend to redevelop, remodel or re-let.

In a city of Oxford’s size, and with such a high proportion of transient residents (students, tourists, academics, medical personnel etc), it is inevitable that there will be a constantly shifting body of properties standing empty for various periods of time.

There is, however, a small number of properties (officers believe there are less than fifty) which are and have been empty for considerable periods of time, and where the owners, for one reason or another, have no intention of bringing the properties back into use. It is on these properties that the Council concentrates its efforts of persuasion & enforcement, through the work of the Empty Homes Officer, the Planning Enforcement Team, and officers of Environmental Development.

Here is a case study to show the sort of work that council officers undertake, acting on this data.

A landlord owned two properties in different parts of the city. Both were run down and in need of substantial works. One had suffered an arson attack. The owner had insufficient funds to commence work on either property, and could not sell either without making a substantial loss because of their condition. The Empty Homes Officer met the owner, and arranged for a Planning Officer to visit the burnt-out property. The Planning Officer gave the owner an informal view that the property was suitable for redevelopment into three flats. This enabled the owner to interest a developer, who eventually bought the property at a much better price than the owner had previously been able to ask. This, in turn allowed the owner to carry out remedial work on the second property. The redevelopment went ahead, and there are now four habitable properties where previously there were two pretty derelict buildings.