Something in the water …

After 25 years in local politics, I have seen my share of skulduggery and low cunning although I have seen no evidence of the corruption that members of the media and public like to assume goes hand-in-hand with political debate, particularly in planning.  When I  was persuaded to return to the political stage albeit it to the non-party-political stage as a parish councillor for Adderbury, I knew it was going to be tough but I was not completely prepared for the sheer nastiness that is clearly swirling around a few roads in this lovely village. A local resident, only half joking, conjectured that there must be something in the water in Adderbury to produce such unpleasantness.

Another local resident suggested my March Parish Council meeting would be “two hours of hell”.  In fact, it was two and a half hours and I heard some things said that the two speakers would be wise to retract and to apologise for but that has not happened to date.

Before the meeting, an anonymous leaflet had been circulated round some parts of the village.  I would guess it was the western side of Adderbury, particularly Horn Hill Road, Berry Hill Road, St Mary’s Road, Norris Close and the still-being-built Adderbury Fields estate.  The leaflet contained a series of untruths and half truths.  It alleged that the Parish Council intended to hand over land it has been given at Milton Road to the local football club with a club house and a licensed bar that would be used for functions generally.  The leaflet predicted noise and parking problems and a substantial increase in the council tax.  This is all nonsense and untrue.  The author of this pamphlet did not have the courage and decency to give his name but the e-mail addresses of three parish councillor were listed.  Whether this implied their endorsement of the leaflet or not, I have been unable to discover.

This land has been given to the Parish Council by Bloor Homes in compliance with an agreement with the District Council (called a Section 106 agreement) and subject to a restrictive covenant that the land must be used for “sports pitches and a community facility”.  Cherwell Council advises that the restriction (which is registered with the Land Registry) is valid and complies with the agreement they have with the developer.  A copy of the agreement is on the Cherwell web site (planning ref: 13/01768/F) .  The Parish Council or, at least, a majority of the Parish Council believes this gift of land provides an opportunity to improve sports provision generally (something Cherwell desperately needs to do) and that football could be a part of that provision but certainly not exclusively.  There is no intention to hand over the land and certainly none to subsidise development out of the council tax.  The Parish Council is consulting with village organisations to see what demand there is for sports use and a community facility generally.

We then move to the Annual Parish Meeting on Tuesday 4 April.  Again, an anonymous leaflet had been circulated and I would assume around the western part of the village if those attending are an indication of the distribution.  Once the normal business of the meeting was dealt with, there was a prolonged period of questioning, mainly clearly influenced by the statements in the anonymous leaflet.  The end result was a proposition for a Parish Poll to ask residents this question: “Do you support plans for football pitches and a clubhouse on the land north of Milton Road?” The law states that a Parish Poll must be held if at least 10 people demand it at the Annual Parish Meeting so the question will be put on 11 May to the electors of Adderbury.

There is no answer to this question because there is no plan for football pitches and a clubhouse on this site.  There is a view from a number of parish councillors that part of the land could be used for football pitches alongside other sports uses and in compliance with the restrictive covenant.  There is also a view that this could be an opportunity to build a community centre to meet the needs of Adderbury’s 3,000 plus residents which could include changing rooms for sports generally but also to meet the needs of the wider community and the many organisations that meet in the village.  None of this could happen unless there was a viable business case to demonstrate the facility would be self sustaining and without a call on the council tax.

The demand for the Parish Poll was signed by 26 electors of whom 12 gave their address as Horn Hill Road; 4 were from Norris Close; 3 were from the Adderbury Fields development still under construction; 2 from Berry Hill Road and 2 from Tanners Lane with 1 from Lake Walk and 1 from Lester Close.   The Parish Poll will take place on Thursday 11 May from 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm at either the Institute or the Methodist Chapel.  Voting must be in person; there is no postal voting.  The cost will fall on Adderbury residents through their council tax.

How are villagers to vote for a question based on an untruth?  Given a view from a number of parish councillors that football pitches could be a part of the provision on this site and that a community facility could include sports changing facilities but much more and has the potential to create the sort of community centre this village deserves, we need people to turn out from all quarters of Adderbury and to answer YES on the basis that the land has to be used for sports pitches and a community facility and that football may well be a part but only a part of that provision.  The site is 7 acres so there is room for a variety of uses and plenty of off-road parking; something no other community building in Adderbury can offer.

Democracy is about trying to meet the needs of the whole community.  It is not about a  minority working the system to defend their own narrow interests.

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Meeting Adderbury’s needs

Adderbury Church

Walking Coco in Adderbury at lunch time on Tuesday 28 March, a resident called across to me to say “you have two hours of hell tonight”.  He was referring to the Parish Council meeting and it was actually two and a half hours.  The public gallery was crowded and we heard a variety of views but it was clear that development on the Milton Road was what had brought several villagers to that rare event – a crowded meeting.  There is quite a lot happening on the Milton Road.

The David Wilson Homes development on the south side is substantially completed, comprising Wallin Road, Pargeter Close and The Robins with 62 homes packed in behind St Mary’s Road and Norris Close.  I was pretty shocked recently when I walked round St Mary’s Road and Norris Close to realise how much privacy and tranquillity some residents have lost with the new development directly adjacent to their houses and on what used to be open fields.  However, planning law does not respect views or long term tranquility in its decisions, particularly when there is a government drive to promote house building at almost any cost and Oxford’s Green Belt is pushing Oxford City’s housing problem on to Cherwell for solution.

To the north side and next to what villagers call Oak Tree Corner is a newer development, recently started by Nicholas King and currently named Clockmaker’s Turn for reasons I have yet to fathom.  The origin of this site goes back a long, long time, probably as far back as 2005 when I was last an Adderbury Parish Councillor.  At that time, I had lengthy discussions with Paul King whose company (Timms Homes) owned the land to the north of Milton Road and with the late John Harper who was the Adderbury District Councillor and with the late Charlie Swain who was a great supporter of the Adderbury Park Football Club.  The footballers were thriving but their pitch and club house on the Lucy Plackett field left much to be desired.  Our discussions revolved around Timms Homes securing planning permission for a limited number of houses on land to the north of Milton Road in return for which they would donate an area of the land for sports and community use and possibly contribute towards the cost of building a simple pavilion.  Discussions were lengthy and local views were very mixed.  John Harper, a surveyor, put in a huge amount of time in working up proposals and I am sure the parish council discussed them but there was considerable opposition from those living near the site.  Eventually, planning was sought and finally agreed.  I suspect the Parish Council supported the application because of the potential for community gain in the form of donated land although I do not know for sure.  I was no longer a parish councillor so not directly involved but I seem to remember that Cherwell rejected an initial planning application for a dozen or so homes, demanding more intensive use of the land and the end result is 20 homes currently under construction.  I believe the parish council had asked that the homes be predominately built in stone and I am very disappointed that Cherwell failed to make this a planning condition and we have mainly brick buildings fronting the site.  Not a good introduction at the entrance of one of North Oxfordshire’s most attractive villages.

As part of the process, the land owner, whether Timms Homes or a successor, I do not know which, transferred an area of land to the parish council and imposed a restrictive covenant that the land transferred should be used for “sports pitches and a community facility”.  Legal advice is clear that a community facility is a building for community use.  It is not a burial ground or a woodland.  With this land in parish council ownership, the council recently  consulted local organisations about their interest in the development of the site within the restrictive covenant it carries.  There is no intention to hand over the whole site to the football club or to restrict its use to football but we do know Adderbury Park Football Club continues to thrive and desperately needs a pitch and clubhouse that is fit for purpose.

For a village of almost 3,000 people, Adderbury is not well provided with community buildings.  The Institute is a fine old building but limited in capacity and lacking the style and facilities people increasingly expect.  The Methodist Chapel is similarly limited and, in my humble view, dour.  Church House is fine for small meetings and I should declare an interest as Chairman of Focal.  The Primary School has a hall but it is just that – a school hall.  The Lucy Plackett Activity Centre has passed its sell-by-date and is OK for the play group but that is all.  The Lucy Plackett pavilion is a disgrace and should be knocked down.  I think that is it!  We need something better and bigger for family anniversaries and weddings, for sports, for Adderbury Theatre Workshop and for the large number of organisations that are clustered around the village.

I do have a vision but it would take leadership and ambition to deliver it and support from a substantial part of the village although it will never be from all.  This is my vision:

  • Design a community centre on the north Milton road site that could accommodate sports activities with changing facilities, a decent-sized hall, a meeting room or two, a bar and servery with storage and toilet facilities and plenty of car parking.
  • Create a new charitable village trust to manage the Milton Road centre and to engage  all organisations that make a financial contribution in the proportion they can contribute and with the ability to control usage hours and activities.
  • Work in partnership with Adderbury Park Football Club to secure Football Association funding towards the development and to become members of the charitable village trust referred to above.
  • Work in partnership with the Institute trustees to secure their agreement towards the development, to put in the proceeds of the sale of the Institute and to become members of the charitable village trust referred to above.  I think the Institute would make a fine  conversion into a home.
  • Work in partnership with the Methodist Chapel to secure their agreement towards the development, to put in the proceeds of the sale of the Chapel and to become members of the charitable village trust referred to above.  Similarly, this building would make a fine home on conversion.

I know this is all a big ask but you do not make progress and achieve miracles without asking big!

I need to make one more declaration of interest.  Personally, I loath football and would never go to a match or take any interest in the game.  I think the noise is loathsome and the pay to big league players and managers is obscene.  However, it is the national sport and I am in a minority.  I also recognise the significant contribution Adderbury Park Football Club makes to participation and to enjoyment.  I welcome and endorse this even though nothing would persuade me to go near a football ground or to sit through a match report on TV!

Finally, I need to comment on a leaflet that I have just seen that was apparently circulated round some parts of the village concerning the Milton Road north development.  I am afraid this document is less than truthful and I hope you will take note of the facts and memories I have set out above.  Who wrote, published and circulated the leaflet is not clear.  Three parish councillors have their e-mail addresses at the foot of the leaflet.  Whether this implies their support for the contents or not I cannot tell.  I hope they will clarify their involvement because the leaflet contains several untruths.

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The delightful irony of politics

corbynj1Although I have forsaken any real involvement in national political life, I do enjoy the ironies that come with politics.  The best irony I have seen for years is the relative positions of the Conservative and Labour parties.  It was always an accepted political nostrum that the Conservative Party was hopelessly divided over Europe and any public debate would expose those divisions and cast the Party into oblivion for decades.  Now, we find that it is the Labour Party that is hopelessly divided over Europe while the Conservatives have maintained their unity.  Well, well!!!

Most Labour MPs were Remainers but their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was clearly not very enthusiastic about the EU and this reflected the views of Labour voters in their northern heartlands but not among the liberal chattering classes in London and places like Oxford.

The Conservative Party is not so very different and people like the irrepressible Ken Clarke, Michael Heseltine and Anna Soubry are Europhiles but we seem to have a better sense of discipline than Labour has been able to achieve.  The result is that the Commons has voted through Theresa May’s short Act to trigger our freedom and it is now over to the Lords to support the democratic decision of the people or seek to frustrate them.  I wait for the next irony!

And, of course, if our PM needs to flood the House of Lords with sufficient Conservative peers to support the people’s decision, I am always willing to volunteer!

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Let Blair blather …

Tony Blair

Tony Blair

People are getting exercised about ex-PM Tony Blair calling on people to change their minds about membership of the European Union and to hold a second referendum.

I am very relaxed about Mr Blair’s blather, in fact I welcome his intervention.  Sensible, thinking people will reflect on his record and make a value judgement about its validity.  As a result, I suspect the proportion of UK electors wanting us out of the EU as quickly as can be sensibly managed will increase markedly.

Tony Blair is the Prime Minister who:

  • Supported George Bush and took us to war in Iraq;
  • Gave us the crippling national minimum wage;
  • Introduced the Human Rights Act;
  • Established the Scottish Parliament with a constitution designed to prevent the Scottish Nationalists ever gaining power;
  • Established the Welsh Assembly;
  • Led on the Good Friday agreement, giving immunity to IRA murderers but leaving our soldiers to be persecuted by a crooked lawyer funded by taxpayers;
  • Consistently supported the UK joining the euro;
  • Doubled spending on the NHS without gaining any improvement in quality;
  • Doubled GP’s salaries while reducing their working hours;
  • Started the squeeze on local government funding that has led to the current crisis in social care;
  • Abolished hunting with hounds;
  • Retired from politics and set up businesses that have made him a fortune and including 10 houses and 27 flats in his or Cherry’s name apparently worth £27m.  Log on to The Guardian for details.

I think this says more than enough about Blair’s judgement.  He turned the Labour Party into a party of government.  After four general election defeats, he gave them three victorious elections in a row and the Party hated him for it!  That they are now led by Jeremy Corbyn is, in no small measure, a reflection of the hatred many feel for the most successful Labour politician of all time if you count winning elections as successful!  Blair has also proved very adept at feathering his own nest to an extraordinary extent.  If this is a man who represents the views of Mr and Mrs Average Briton, I will eat my hat!

vote-leaveSo blether on, Mr Blair,  Ask for a second referendum as the EU did when Ireland voted the “wrong way” first time round but I think British voters are cannier than you believe and I think you are simply making the determination to LEAVE stronger and stronger.  We should probably be thanking you!

 

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Green Belt – friend or foe?

green-belt-in-englandThe Green Belt has been with us for more than 60 years.  Its evolution can be traced back to 1935 when the Greater London Regional Planning Committee proposed its establishment around London to prevent our capital simply growing outwards. The Town & Country Planning Act of 1947 allowed local councils to include Green Belt proposals in their development plans and, in 1955, the Minister of Housing – Duncan Sandys – encouraged councils to protect land around urban centres by formally designating clearly defined Green Belts.

In Oxfordshire, there is a single area of Green Belt encircling the City of Oxford.  I fear a green-beltlot of people believe Green Belt to be much more widespread than it actually is and I have heard residents of North Oxfordshire villages convinced that the green fields on the edges of their villages are Green Belt.  They are not and the recent tendency for urbanising estates to be built around the edges of many North Oxfordshire villages demonstrates the vulnerability of our green fields to be built over.  In addition to the designation of Green Belt land, there is a second designation of Area of High Landscape Value which offers some protection but not as much as Green Belt.  The Oxfordshire map shows the Oxford Green Belt in the centre of the county and areas of High Landscape Value in the west and south of the county.

Preservation of the Green Belt has been a fundamental of Conservative Party policy since its inception and largely remains so today.  However, like many old established ideas, I am finding it hard to continue universal support for the Green Belt given the damage it is inflicting on fine old villages like Adderbury, Bloxham and Bodicote.

It is the intense pressure caused by the success of Oxford’s economy – both public, private and academic – that has led to enormous pressure for housing growth that cannot be delivered within the corset of the Oxford Green Belt.  It is the imperative to accommodate Oxford’s housing needs that is putting huge pressure on Cherwell District Council to plan for more and more houses and this, in turn, is leading to the proliferation of inappropriate, urban-style housing estates on the edges of our villages not to mention increasing congestion on our roads, schools at capacity and a health service that is tottering.

I have therefore reached the conclusion that the Oxford Green Belt needs to be reviewed.  They did this very successfully in Cambridgeshire some 20 years ago, taking out some bits of poor quality and inserting compensating green wedges elsewhere.  I think there is room for relaxation to the south at Grenoble Road and to the north at Water Eaton and Kidlington.  Both are near enough to the city centre for easy commuting, mainly by bus and both would benefit from economic growth.  I would not like to see Grenoble Road become another Blackbird Leys with a large number of economic dependents and I am afraid Oxford City Council is only too capable of creating just such a ghettoised estate so that would be my sole reservation about this Green Belt relaxation.  To the north of Oxford at Begbroke, we have a small regional airport which should be better used and we have the new Chiltern line from Oxford  via Water Eaton to Marylebone that beats the Great Western Railway offer hands down.  There is also the Begbroke Science Park with wonderful job and research opportunities.

It is time the pressure was taken off Cherwell’s green fields and the only way I can see of doing this is by reviewing Oxford’s Green Belt.

 

 

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Open doors

door_1We have had several lots of workmen at our home recently and they have all exhibited a single interesting characteristic.  They were all congenitally incapable of closing a door behind them.  This applied to the door by which they entered and left and the door to our downstairs cloakroom.  All were left ajar.

Reflecting on this, I came to the conclusion that they probably live in modern homes with self-closing doors fitted everywhere.  Thus, they push a door open, enter the room and the door closes behind them.  Our home is over 200 years old and full of creaks, unevenness and strange angles.  None of the doors close unless you push them shut and some are not very happy to close completely even then!

I have to say the thought of living in a home with doors that shut after you enter is not one I welcome.  It takes away a freedom to be open or private as you choose.  I suspect it is the ‘elf & safety brigade who think a house that is shut room-by-room is safer in the event of a fire and I am sure they are right but I would rather enjoy the choice and risk the fire.

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Two losses to our community

I am sorry to learn of two deaths in quick succession in the new year both of people who had given much to their local communities.

corney_m2Marie Corney died on 22 December in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands, aged 78.  Loving wife of Alan, and devoted mother to Rachel and Stephen and beloved Nana of Hayden and Sarah.  She and Alan enjoyed rewarding careers which took them round the world.  They moved to Adderbury after retirement, first living in Horn Hill Road and them moving to Lake Walk but they also enjoyed their holidays in Mallorca, the Canary Islands, Spain and Portugal.  Marie was a Friend of Adderbury Library and worked as a volunteer.   More recently she became an editor of the local village magazine Adderbury Contact utilising her computer skills.  She is pictured here with her husband Alan who survives her.

flux_j1Jim Flux died on 8 January 2017 after being taken ill while engaged in one of his favourite pursuits – bell ringing.  Jim had enjoyed a successful business career before retiring to live with his wife Jean in Deddington.  He engaged in voluntary work and was the leading light in establishing the Carers Centre in Banbury, prompted by a visit from the national Carers charity patron, the Princess Royal.  Jim was also a Deddington Parish Councillor and served as Chairman of the parish council for some time.  Jean died some years ago but Jim worked on in his many voluntary roles in great style.

North Oxfordshire will be the poorer for the loss of both of them.

 

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