Time for a confession …..

I think it is time for a confession.  I did not vote on Thursday and I ought to explain why.  I moved to Nell Bridge House in Adderbury in February 1984 and got involved in Conservative Party activities almost immediately.  Tony Baldry had been elected MP for Banbury in the previous year and served for 32 years.  He became a good friend as well as my MP.  In 2015, I served on the selection committee to find his successor.  We went through several iterations and finally sent four women to the full constituency meeting for final selection.  I thought two of them were eminently qualified to succeed Tony but Victoria Prentis was not one of them.  However, at the final constituency selection meeting, Victoria Prentis won the local vote.  At the selection meeting, I saw a good few people I had never seen before and have not seen since and she was elected as the local candidate.  Her father was Tim Boswell, MP for the neighbouring Daventry Constituency.  He was a lovely man and a good constituency MP.  His daughter is no Tony Baldry and I do not think she is right for the Banbury Constituency so have withdrawn from active involvement in the constituency.   This was my first problem on Thursday and I did not feel willing to place a cross against her name.  I was secure in the knowledge that my absence would make not a scrap of difference to her result.  If I had, I might have held my nose and placed my cross but it was not necessary.

Tussling with my conscience and my loyalty to the Party I have supported for most of my adult life, I thought I might justify voting locally as support for Theresa May, Leader of the Party and Prime Minister charged with getting us speedily out of the European Union.  However, as the campaign progressed and particularly as the manifesto was launched I began to feel we had lost the Conservative principles of Margaret Thatcher.  The social care policy was brave but badly timed and poorly explained.  There was worse.  Threats of higher taxes.  A higher minimum wage.  Retention of much of the restrictive employment laws we have gained from Europe and much else that did not sound like Thatcherite conservatism.  Then came her TV coverage during the campaign and the comparison with Corbyn.  Corbyn’s policies were appalling and would bankrupt GB but he spoke to them with a style and enthusiasm that TM simply could not match.  No wonder he won over young voters with no experience of the real world and welcoming unaffordable promises about tuition fees, NHS funding and school funding.

So there we are.  I gave the polling station a miss on Thursday and am saddened but not altogether surprised at the outcome of the General Election.  I am afraid we got what we deserved and our failure is down to TM and her small team of advisers.  That she remains in Number Ten is a function of the impossibility of replacing her with the start of Brexit looming and a lack of obvious talent that the Party would accept.  So, she remains as a caretaker and let’s hope she makes a good fist of getting us swiftly and cleanly out of the EU.  I do not doubt her competence;  I see her as a technocrat but she is no communicator and she is certainly no Margaret Thatcher as Victoria Prentis is no Tony Baldry.

 

 

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Adderbury says YES

Tonight’s Parish Poll voted YES to including football in any plans for use of the land given to the parish council on the north side of Milton Road.  The non-question posed by opponents to development of the Milton Road land was: Do you support the plans for football pitches and a clubhouse on the land north of Milton Road?  It was never the intention of the parish council to use this site exclusively for football or for a football clubhouse so the question was flawed from the start and deliberately so by those seeking to prevent development of this land.  The voting was:

YES:  479 and NO: 339 so a solid margin for including football in our planning for use of this gifted land.  The turnout was 821 voters or 36% so I say thank you to all who bothered to vote whether it was for YES or NO.

I am afraid this is only the start of the battle.  We have a lawyer in the village who is aggressively pursuing a Judicial Review against the parish council and who is clearly seeking to make life as difficult as he can with intimidating use of legal process for those parish councillors who are only motivated by their desire to improve the village’s facilities.  The parish council is therefore likely to be mired in arguments about our response to this judicial review with the instigating lawyer doing his best to tie our hands.  Given he has published his business on the web, I invite you to meet our local lawyer.  To take a liberty with Percy Bysshe Shelley in his epic poem one might be inclined to think “My name is Nigel Davies, lawyer of lawyers, look on my works and despair” but some of us are made of stronger stuff.  Do your worst Mr Davies, Adderbury voted YES.

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Oxfordshire bucking the trend

Following the news immediately after the local council elections was interesting, in part, to observe the lack of any reference to Oxfordshire.  The headlines were full of “Conservative victory”, “Labour disaster”, “UKIP wipe-out” and “Liberal failure” not to forget Lady Macbeth (AKA Nicola Sturgeon) finding the Scottish Conservatives are now her principal and principled opposition and flying the flag for the Union.  However, there was no Conservative victory in Oxfordshire; in fact, the failure to regain control of the council was, in my view, a signal failure.

I will repeat the statistics I cited in my earlier blog:

=======Cons   Lab    Lib    Grn    Ind

Before          31       15       11        2       4

After             31       14       13       0       5

Change          0        -1      +2      -2     +1

There was no Labour rout in Oxfordshire.  They consolidated their position in Oxford City but it worsened in their other bastion – Banbury.  The Liberals did better in Oxford City  than in the rest of the country, taking 2 Divisions from Conservatives.  Interestingly, the Greens lost both of their Divisions to Labour.  I find this particularly interesting given that one might have expected the Greens to capitalise on the Corbyn factor.  Whether there were  local issues in play, I do not know but would be interested to learn.

I suppose there are three factors behind this bucking of the national trend.  One is Oxford City, the second is Abingdon & West Constituency and the third is Liberal campaigning skills.

When I was recently in Oxford City, I remember meeting an ex-Vice-Chancellor close to tears over the Brexit vote who regarded it as the end of the world for academic funding.  Oxford is full of academics and health professionals who see the public sector as their source of comfortable living.  Before they choke on their lobster thermidor, you need to have attended high table in an Oxford College or a dons’ reception to understand how well the academics live in their cloistered world and their dependence on public funding.  As for senior health professionals, you  need to take a look at their restrictive practices and remuneration processes to understand their dependence on state funding not to mention the continuing financial pressure on the NHS.  Because of the predominance of the public sector in Oxford City, I suppose it is no surprise that Labour did as well as they did.

Banbury was different and I suspect this reflects the majority vote for leave in Cherwell.  Although it was marginal, I would not mind betting that there was a bigger Leave majority in Banbury counter-balanced by Remainers in Kidlington with its closeness to Oxford City.

Turning to Oxford West and Abingdon Parliamentary Constituency, this was always one of the strongest Liberal constituencies in the country so it is little surprise that they managed to tip out Sandy Lovatt who was a past chairman of our weakest constituency in Oxfordshire.

Slightly more surprising was the loss of the Charlbury & Wychwood Division to the Liberals in West Oxfordshire.  Of course, West Oxfordshire showed a strong Remain vote in the referendum while Rodney Rose never hid his wish to Leave and whether this was part of the problem we may never know.  It was certainly a resounding Conservative defeat and I think the voting numbers are instructive:

============ Con       Lib    UKIP      Lab       Grn

2013     votes        1,199      900      461       267      220

2013        %             39%      30%     15%        9%       7%

2017     votes        1,579    2,105                    210       132

2013        %             39%      52%                      5%       3%

These figures are quite telling, I think and a lesson to all local politicians.  While Rodney Rose’s share of the vote remained constant, the Liberal share shot up from 30% to 52% while the turnout soared from 38% in 2013 to 50% in 2017.  I suspect the Liberals targeted this Division, poured in their troops and turned out the vote.  I suspect most of the UKIP votes went to Rodney Rose but he failed to turn out his supporters in anything like the hordes that the Liberals managed.

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Oxfordshire County Council bucked the trend – the wrong way

I have to confess to considerable disappointment that Oxfordshire Conservatives were unable to emulate the Party’s performance elsewhere and failed to gain control of the county council.

It remains precisely as hung as it has been for the last four years and hung councils do not work and do not deliver strategic change.

This is how the 63 seats broke down before and after the election on 4 May 2017.

=======Cons   Lab    Lib    Grn    Ind

Before          31       15       11        2       4

After             31       14       13       0       5

Change          0        -1      +2      -2     +1

Conservatives exhibited the most churn, losing three high profile and senior members:

On the left is Rodney Rose, former Deputy Leader of the Council, who lost his Charlbury & Wychwood division to a Liberal.  In the centre is David Nimmo-Smith, former Cabinet member for the Environment, who lost his Henley Division to a Henley Resident candidate.  To the right is Sandy Lovatt, former Chairman of the Audit & Governance Committee and a former Constituency Chairman, who lost his seat to a Liberal.

I am tempted to mis-quote Oscar Wilde and to say that to lose one division may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness; while to lose three is quite unforgiveable.

Thankfully, three Conservative candidate restored the position by snatching seats from Labour.  Here are the heroes:

On the left is Tony Ilott, already a Cherwell District Councillor, who took Banbury Hardwick from Labour’s Surinder Shesi.  In the centre is Alan Thompson who took Didcot West from Labour’s Nick Hards.  On the right is Eddie Reeves who took Banbury Calthorpe from Labour after Mark Cherry jumped from this Division to the safer one of Ruscote.  Congratulations to these three candidates who prevented the total disgrace of an overall loss of seats.

I assume the coalition between Conservatives and some Independents will continue.  It is interesting to speculate who will assume the mantle of Deputy Leader following the demise of Rodney Rose.  He and the Leader, Ian Hudspeth, were both West Oxfordshire members.  I assume Ian Hudspeth will continue as Leader despite the election debacle over which he has presided but this may be an opportunity to import some talent from another part of the county as his deputy?

I will return to the Oxfordshire County Council results in a later blog.

 

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Focus on Adderbury

I knew serving on Adderbury Parish Council was going to be challenging but I am still struggling to come to terms with the sheer nastiness I have witnessed since my election.

The latest example is a leaflet being delivered around the village that has been signed by 32 residents and that contains a number of inaccuracies.

In this blog, I will concentrate on the demographics of the village and on democracy.  Later and in another blog, I will address some of the untruths that are being peddled.

The leaflet to which I refer asks villager to vote NO to the Parish Poll to be held on 11 May 2017 in answer to a non-question.  The non-question is “Do you support the plans for football pitches and a clubhouse on the land north of Milton Road?”  Sadly, this question is the first untruth because there are no plans of the parish council for this land to be turned over to football pitches and a clubhouse.  This site comprises more than seven acres and a majority of parish councillors believe there could be room for football pitches on a part of the site.  In addition there could be a running track, a cricket pitch and space for netball.  Equally important, this could be a site for a modern village hall for a village of 3,000 people.  This is something Adderbury has singularly failed to achieve despite the considerable growth of the village.

I hope your answer to this non-question will be YES.  This is not because I hope to see the site given over solely to football but I think our local football teams should have a chance to use part of this site along with many other sports.  I also think we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a decent village hall for Adderbury but only if it can stand on its own financially.  I would not support a proposal that required ongoing subsidy by local council tax payers.

Now, let me return to the demography of Adderbury and to democracy.  Adderbury has a little over 3,000 residents and 2,384 electors.   This is my best attempt at analysing where those electors live:

  • Aynho Road, East End and the new developments along Aynho Road  – 276 electors
  • Centre of the village including Cross Hill Road, Dog Close, Manor Road, Mill Lane, Round Close Road and several other smaller ones  235 electors
  • Main Road, including Greenhill, Griffin Close, Oxford Road, Summers Close, Twyford Gardens, Twyford Road 353 electors
  • The Green, including Adderbury Court, Chapel Lane, Croft Lane, Falkners Close, Green Farm, High Street, Lake House, Lake Walk, Lambourne Way & House, Meadow View, Parsons Street, Sir Georges Lane  and The Green  389 electors
  • Twyford, including Kemps Road, Margaret Road, Rawlins Close, The Crescent, The Rise, Twyford Avenue, Twyford Grove, Cawley Road, Deene Close, Rochester Way, and Walton Avenue   699 electors
  • West Adderbury, including Berry Hill Road, Horn Hill Road, Norris Close, St Mary’s Road, Tanners Lane and the new development at Adderbury Fields 432 electors

The leaflet to which I have referred above has been signed by 32 residents.  This is the break down of their addresses:

Road Nos Notes
Horn Hill Road 17 Including 4 parish councillors, 3 of whom are immediate neighbours
Norris Close 4
St Mary’s Road 3
The Leys 2
Adderbury Fields 2 This is the very recent development next to St Mary’s Road
Berry Hill Road 1
Lester Close 2 One of these is not on the Electoral Roll and appears to be the author of the Save Adderbury web site
Twyford Avenue 1 This is the Chairman of ACAG

In terms of democracy, it seems to me that we have 29 residents who live close to this site plus 3 who live in Twyford but have a history of opposing progressive development who are seeking to impose their apparent dislike of football and footballers on a community of 2,384 electors and 3,000 plus residents.  I would be surprised if quite a few of the remaining 2,352 electors did not value sports like football and wish to see it supported and developed in Adderbury.  I should repeat that I do not wish to see the Milton Road site handed over to a football club for their sole use but I do think the village should have a chance to develop this 7 acre plus site to include facilities for a variety of sports and community activities.

Please vote YES in the Parish Poll to say that you believe football could and should be a part of the use of the Milton Road site alongside many other potential uses.

The Parish Poll is on Thursday 11 May 2017 from 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm at Christopher Rawlins School, Aynho Road.  There are no postal votes so you need to turn up to vote in person.

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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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