Hands off our villages, George!

George Osboirne

George Osborne

I read that the Treasury is seeking to stimulate the economy by further loosening of planning controls.  If The Daily Telegraph is to be believed, the Treasury has been pushing for measures that would have led to almost unrestrained building in rural areas.

While I see the need to support the UK construction industry, I need to tell George Osborne and his Treasury team some home truths about the patch in Oxfordshire that I represent and the sort of reception he or his minions can expect if they were to venture here to explain their thirst for more house building in villages in the South East.

My County Electoral Division is named Bloxham and includes five fine ironstone villages.  In descending order of population size (mid-2010), they are Bloxham (3,257), Adderbury (3,109), Bodicote (2,046), Milcombe (629) and Milton (299).   They are grouped to the south of Banbury (pop: 43,000) in North Oxfordshire.

Church Street

Bloxham derives its name from  Blocc’s Ham (Blocc’s home) when it was a Saxon settlement in the sixth century. In Domesday, it had become Blochesham and, by 1316, had morphed to Bloxham.  The 1377 Poll Tax Register recorded a population of 403.  By 1676, the population had more than doubled to 880 and, by 1801, was 1,358.  In 1961, the population was 1,351;   by 1991 it had risen to 2,356 and by 2001, to 3,132.

Bloxham sits astride the A361, a route that connects the Chipping Norton set, Cheltenham and the West Country to the M40 J11 at Banbury. The road is unremittingly busy and the village’s small collection of shops and pubs share their High Street with a constant stream of lorries, vans and cars and the very occasional bus or cyclist.  Bloxham was on a rail line until Dr Beeching; the site of its station is now a small housing estate.

There is a growing spirit in Bloxham of what I can best describe as rabid fundamentalism.  It is in total opposition to further growth of the village with inevitable urbanisation because of the growing threat of absorption by neighbouring Banbury.   Anyone who doubts this should ask Adrian Colwell, Chief Planner at Cherwell District Council.  He was lucky to escape with his life after attending the Annual Village Meeting in Bloxham  where passions ran very high about what was perceived as the uncontrollable growth of this village

The village’s wrath is focussed on the Milton Road at its western end.  On the north side is a development of 74 houses (pictured right) that lacks any of Bloxham’s architectural charm and comes complete with the inevitable plastic play area that children avoid like the plague; the inadequate road space provided on an estate that has a miniscule bus service and where the houses are of a design that could be found on any urban, suburban or rural modern development anwhere in the country.

Milton Road
For Sale

On the opposite side of the Milton Road, another estate is being built with 61 houses.  They don’t look much diferent or much better.  This estate is in green fields backing on to houses on the Milton Road.  People who lived on the Milton Road for many years with pleasant views and peace and tranquility suddenly find they are about to have neighbours and I suspect the sprouting of FOR SALE boards (pictured left) is an indication of their unhappiness.

Meanwhile and round the corner, a developer named Gladman is seeking planning permission on the Barford Road for another 75 houses.  This has really angered Bloxham residents and I don’t blame them.  Here is a link to my advice to the planning authority on the Gladman application.

If this government means anything about localism, they need to allow local councils to make decisions that reflect the needs of their communities.

Some years ago, I was a dual hatter – County and District Councillor for Bloxham.  It was a two-member ward and I shared it with a Liberal.  Now the Liberals are probably a spent force but the local Labour lot are sufficiently unprincipled to campaign against the housing growth they traditionally espouse and to seek to take a seat.  Our future elections could be quite interesting – unless the electorate’s corporate memory is better than cynical left of centre politicians would believe!

About Keith R Mitchell CBE

Qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1967. Pursued a successful career in financial training and publishing until selling his interests in 1990. Elected a County Councillor for the Bloxham Division in 1989. Leader of Oxfordshire County Council 5 November 2001 to 15 May 2012. Chairman of the South East England Regional Planning Committee July 2002 to July 2005. Chairman of the South East England Regional Assembly July 2005 to July 2008. In HM the Queen’s 2007 Birthday Honours, appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in recognition of services to local government.
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