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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Garden towns and villages

Banner HomesToday’s news of the government’s plans for 3 new garden towns and 14 garden villages are an interesting addition to thoughts for the New Year!  It is beyond doubt that we need more houses in this country and that there is a current affordability crisis with many people priced out of any prospect of owning their own home.  Equally certain is the controversy that individual sites will bring with concerns over the Green Belt – where it exists; green fields – much more  abundant than Green Belt; the potential for coalescence of settlements into suburban sprawl and what it will all mean for affordability.

The three new garden towns are proposed near to Aylesbury in Bucks, Taunton in Somerset and Harlow & Gilston in Herts.  They will comprise 10,000 homes each.  I think the first garden city was  Letchworth, followed by Welwyn after which the idea foundered.  I also seem to remember that Letchworth was teetotal for many years, without a single pub to its name!  Garden cities were the brainchild of a social reformer named Ebenezer Howard.  He sought to combine the advantages of cities and the countryside and wanted to offer working people a better standard of living with low rents.  However public houses were banned when Letchworth was built, with building work starting in 1903.  It was not until a referendum of local people was held in 1958 that they voted for a lifting of the ban and now the town sports as many pubs and restaurants as any other urban area.

The 14 garden villages sound likely to be equally controversial.  They are to comprise between 1,500 and 10,000 houses.  I don’t think a settlement with 10,000 houses and, one would imagine, over 30,000 people could possibly be regarded as a village.  It is a medium-sized town.  There is one garden village proposed for Oxfordshire and it is in the triangle between Witney, Woodstock and Eynsham in West Oxfordshire – what was David Cameron’s old patch!  It is the result of a bid by the district council for a garden village of up to 2,200 houses and its attraction is its proximity to Oxford which has one of the most acute housing crises in the country both in terms of price and availability.

oxon-and-green-beltThis reminds me of the real problem for housing in Oxfordshire.  It is the Green Belt that surrounds Oxford City.  While that Green Belt continues to exist and to prevent the City from growing, there will be huge pressure on surrounding settlements outside the Green Belt to accommodate Oxford City’s housing needs.  Cherwell has suffered from this for some time now and villages like Bloxham and Bodicote have been blighted with urban extensions to help to meet Oxford City’s housing needs.  It is ironic that many villagers in North Oxfordshire believe they enjoy the benefit of Green Belt round their villages but they have increasingly discovered that the nearest Green Belt is miles away, girdling Oxford City and creating the housing boom on the green fields around North Oxfordshire villages that do not enjoy the protection the Green Belt brings.

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Back to the grind …

BALLOTAfter a quarter of a century in elections and local government, with 24 years as a county councillor and eleven as Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, I thought all of that was finally behind me and I was not entirely sorry.  However, I now find myself fighting an election again to be elected to a vacant place on Adderbury Parish Council. How did this happen?

Well, before the elections to Adderbury Parish Council in May 2016, several villagers urged me to stand, citing the disharmony and obstructionism that had become a feature of the  meetings and hoping I might help to restore calm and objectivity.  I gave this some thought at the time but had a pretty full work load in my voluntary and charitable roles so declined.

Almost a year later, my largest voluntary/charitable role is ending in February so I will have some time for a different interest and I know I can bring a lot of experience and personal skills to democracy at the lowest level.  I make no pretence that Adderbury Parish Council has any significant powers to change the world but it is the closest democratic body to the people it represents and this is a fine large village with plenty of potential.  I have heard of the problems that persist in this council and have therefore put my name forward as someone who is willing to represent the whole of Adderbury village and not a sectional part of it and who will do his best to maintain its quality and improve its facilities.

I would be foolish to pretend that the Parish Council has the power to prevent further housing growth.  If the county and district councils are increasingly powerless in this respect, Adderbury Parish Council certainly is.  However, I would ask you to look at the new housing that has come to Adderbury recently and I think you would accept that it is of a better quality and better suited to our village than that which has been imposed on Bloxham or Bodicote.  I regard Adderbury as the premier, quality, ironstone village of North Oxfordshire and, if elected, I will do all that I can to ensure that future housing growth in the village is of a high quality, appropriate in style and supported by adequate infrastructure investment.  That will be a hard enough battle; anyone who pretends they can prevent any more growth or prevent it in their favoured part of the village is not being honest with you.

I have never had a huge personal interest in sport and dislike the growing commercialism we see in cricket and football and, increasingly in other areas.  We have absurd salaries for players and their managers and, it seems, endemic corruption at the national level.  Against this, I see the value of sport at a local level and believe strongly that local communities should be supporting young and old alike to enjoy sporting activities of their choice and close to where they live.  I am therefore strongly in favour of promoting better local facilities for footballers, cricketers, runners, athletes and other activities within what can be afforded and what housing developers can be expected and persuaded to support.

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