Has Labour finally reached agreement with the Covered Market Traders?

The Labour city councillor with special responsibility for the Covered Market has been forced to give in to pressure at a public meeting I organised on Wednesday evening.  The meeting was at the Town Hall and was chaired very ably by the very Revd Bob Wilkes, City Rector and vicar of St Michael at the Northgate, the City Church.  I am grateful to him.  All candidates for the upcoming Carfax by-election were invited and all but one attended.  The missing candidate (Conservative) had family care commitments that meant she was unable to attend and she asked me to give apologies which I gladly did.

Photo thanks to Alexander Hammond

Photo thanks to Alexander Hammond

I am  delighted that campaigning by the me, local residents and traders has forced Labour to make this concession.

Labour’s market spokesperson, Cllr Mary Clarkson, said she wanted to settle with the traders at their proposed figure of 16% and “the back-dated rent should be waived.”

Astonished traders in the room were left bemused by Mary’s public commitment to the deal they had originally proposed, and which up to that point had been flatly rejected by the council officers. She went on to say that the system had become “too removed from councillors and traders and far too concentrated with the council’s estates department.”

Reflecting on events around the market I’m just sorry it has taken so long. At the meeting we heard from traders who’ve told us they are and are seriously concerned that they won’t be able to pay their rent.  We also heard from the Labour candidate for Carfax who admitted that their current system for determining rents is and arbitration just leads to surveyors cashing in on taxpayer’s money.  Is that what we want?

I genuinely welcome this new stance as it is something I have strongly campaigned for and is the reason why I organised the meeting on Wednesday. My only concern is that we’ve heard these kind of pledges before from Labour. Previously they agreed to keep the market rent rises in line with the results of the independent arbitrator’s report but, to put it in the words of one of the traders here tonight, they “welched” on the deal.’ Let’s hope they keep their word this time!

A vacancy in Carfax Ward – questions Labour has to answer

I am delighted to tell you that at the close of nominations today, I am a validly nominated candidate for a by-election in Carfax Ward of Oxford City Council – the ward I served as a councillor from May 2010 to May 2014.  I look forward to the opportunity to continue campaigning for the people of Carfax on such issues as the Covered Market, late night noise, cycle and pedestrian safety and making sure those that live in the South part of the ward are properly looked after during the reconstruction of the Westgate site.  I also hope to hold the account the Labour council’s dreadful recent history of planning recommendations and decisions in and around Carfax ward, as well as continuing to work with local social housing providers to tackle the problems of prostitution, drug dealing and other antisocial behaviour around their homes.

The reason for the by-election is that the Labour Councillor for the ward who was elected in 2012 decided to resign late last month, little more than two months after the last election and then two people from within Oxford (although neither in Carfax Ward) asked the City Council to hold an election almost immediately afterwards.  I should be clear that we don’t know why Anne-Marie resigned and I am not criticising her for resigning, I am criticising Oxford Labour for calling a by-election at such a ridiculous time for a student-heavy ward.  A resignation does not in itself cause a by-election.

I had just left the UK for three week camping holiday in Spain and France just before Anne-Marie Canning’s resignation. Despite that I am happy to say that I was able to complete the vital parts of the nomination while in Spain and then post them to Tim Bearder, my agent, in time for him to deliver them in person (as required in law) to Oxford City Council before today’s nominations deadline.

commonIt is extremely frustrating that Oxford Labour appears to be calling a string of by-elections at the moment.  Not least because the City Council reckons they cost about £4,000 of taxpayers money each time but also because having them over the summer, particularly in school and University holidays, disenfranchises a huge number of voters.  In my mind, to call a by-election in Carfax Ward which has a vast majority of students, with polling day to happen on 4th September is incredibly cynical and a clear attempt to maximise chances of winning by minimising turnout in the election.  I’ll be surprised if we see 10% turnout. Hardly good or fair democracy in my mind.  If anyone is in any doubt about the Carfax by-election being caused by Labour then do take a look at the photo adjacent.  It shows that one of those calling the election has 8 facebook friends in common with me – all of whom are strong Labour activists, councillors or ex-councillors.  That person also gives his address as Rose Hill – so hardly a Carfax resident!  The other person calling the election lives in a different part of the City again and has previously nominated a Labour candidate in a recent by-election.

This is the second by-election Labour have called since the main May local elections and another Oxford City Labour Councillor has resigned today.  They seem to be carefully timing them so they can move the Labour machine from ward to ward, election by election – and causing more cost for taxpayers than if all three had been held on the same day.  Again I don’t think this is good or fair democracy.  It also seems that they’ll all be over just before Labour conference.  How convenient, and self-serving!

So the questions I think for Labour are:

1. Why are you calling these by-elections one-by-one?

2.  Do you think it is acceptable to make the City Council spend £4,000 of taxpayers money every time rather than having a batch of by-elections on one day or better, doing the above and resigning in a timely manner?

I think the people of Oxford need answers to these questions and I will certainly be seeking them over the coming weeks.  In the meantime I look forward to getting down to some serious campaigning on the issues that matter to the people of Carfax ward.

A reception for children and teachers from Bonns Fünfte School

group_bonnI really should be out knocking on doors and will be shortly but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to welcome this group to Oxford from our twin City of Bonn.  The group consisted of Ursula Dreeser, the headteacher of Bonns Fünfte School, about 15 children and one other staff member.  I prepared a short speech of welcome and my good friend from Bonn, Ursula Hassel, did a nice straightforward translation.  I am not a German speaker so I was grateful to my colleague at work Katherine, for helping me rehearse it.  Another work colleauge, Marko, came with me as a native German speaker as I knew I would struggle with small talk with the children after the speech.  He did a great job!

Here’s what I said: “Liebe Schülerinnen und Schüler aus Bonn,

herzlich willkommen in Oxford! Ich hoffe, ihr hattet eine gute Reise. Es freut mich, dass ihr unsere Stadt besucht und ich begrüße euch sehr herzlich im Namen unserer Stadt und unseres Stadtrats. Ich heiße Tony Brett und bin Mitglied des Stadtrats und stellvertretender Oberbürgermeister. Die Oberbürgermeisterin, Frau Dee Sinclair, lässt euch sehr herzlich grüßen und bedauert, dass sie heute nicht hier sein kann.

Wir befinden uns hier im Oberbürgermeistersaal des Rathauses. Dieses Rathaus wurde vor hundertzwanzig (120) Jahren gebaut und ist das dritte Gebäude an dieser Stelle.

Die Aufgabe der Oberbürgermeisterin in Oxford ist es, den Stadtrat bei feierlichen Anlässen zu vertreten, Werbung für die Stadt zu machen und die vielen ehrenamtlichen und sonstigen Organisationen in Oxford zu unterstützen. Eine wichtige Aufgabe der Oberbürgermeisterin ist es auch, die Städtepartner¬schaftsprogramme zu unterstützen. Und deshalb freue ich mich, dass ihr aus unserer Partnerstadt Bonn nach Oxford gekommen seid.

Ich hoffe, dass ihr während eurer fünf Tage in Oxford viele interessante Dinge erleben und viel Spaß haben werdet. Oxford ist eine Stadt mit einer langen und interessanten Geschichte und es gibt wirklich viel hier zu sehen. Besonders schön sehen unsere alten Gebäude in der Sonne aus; deshalb hoffe ich, dass sie in den nächsten Tagen öfter mal scheint. Viel Freude wünsche ich euch auch in der West Oxford Community Schule.

Wie ihr in der Stadt sehen werdet, gibt es in Oxford viele Universitätsstudenten, und viele von ihnen machen gerade ihre Prüfungen. Ihr werdet sie an ihren schwarzen Gewändern erkennen, die sie während der Prüfungen tragen müssen. Manche von ihnen haben auch eine Nelke an ihr Gewand gesteckt. Das ist eine Tradition hier in Oxford. Bei der ersten Prüfung tragen sie eine weiße Nelke, bei den mittleren Prüfungen eine rosafarbene und bei der letzten Prüfung eine rote Nelke. Schaut in den nächsten Tagen mal, ob ihr sie entdecken könnt.

Ich habe heute einen deutschen Freund aus meinem Büro mitgebracht; er heißt Marko und er spricht wesentlich besser Deutsch als ich. Gerne könnt ihr ihm Fragen zur Stadt Oxford, dem Bürgermeisteramt oder zu eurem Besuch hier stellen.

Und nun wünsche ich euch ein paar wunderschöne Tage und viel Spaß hier in Oxford.”

threeThe school party came over from Bonn this morning by train (including Eurostar) and were in good spirits.  We had a little reception with tea, coffee and soft drinks in the Lord Mayor’s parlour and then I showed the children and their teachers the Council Chamber and the Main Hall of the Town Hall.  The children asked lots of intelligent questions and I was grateful to have a translator present in Marko.

The group is staying in central Oxford for five days and has two mornings at West Oxford Primary School planned as well as lots of sightseeing in and around Oxford.  I hope they have a really great time!

Here’s what I said in English: “Hello students from Bonn and welcome to our City of Oxford. I hope you had a good journey. It is very good to have you here and I am happy to welcome you on behalf of our City and the City Council. I am Councillor Tony Brett, the Deputy Lord Mayor of Oxford and our Lord Mayor, Councillor Dee Sinclair sends you her best wishes too but can’t be here today.

We are in the Lord Mayor’s Parlour in Oxford Town Hall. The Town Hall is an historic building built nearly 120 years ago. The current Town Hall is the third on the site and its foundation stone was laid in 1893 by the Mayor Thomas Lucas.

You are going to be in Oxford for five days so I hope you have many interesting visits and fun experiences. Oxford is a City with a really interesting and long history so there is lots to see here. I think our buildings look particularly lovely in the golden summer sun so I hope you’ll see some between now and Friday! I wish you an enjoyable time with West Oxford Community Primary School too.

Oxford has a lot of students and many are taking examinations at the moment so are dressed in the uniform called “sub fusc” that they have to wear for them. You might see them wearing a flower (carnations) too. The tradition is that they wear a white flower for their first exam, a pink one for all those in the middle and a red flower for the last one. Do look out for them!

I have a German friend from my office with me here today, Marko, and he speaks much better German than me! If you want to ask him anything about the City, the Lord Mayor or your visit, please do.

I hope you have a wonderful five days in Oxford and enjoy yourselves greatly. Welcome again to our City!”

The saga of the bus stops continues

ox mail beaumont 20 may 14A story has appeared in the Oxford Mail today about the temporary bus stops on Beaumont Street and the disturbance this is causing to students.  The story includes:

County council spokesman Owen Morton said: “Temporary arrangements of this nature are inevitably going to cause a certain amount of disruption and inconvenience for residents, as well as bus users and pedestrians. We understand the concerns of students and other residents living close to the temporary stops. However, given the need for an accessible, city centre location, Beaumont Street was identified as the best available option for the temporary stops and to position them elsewhere – including within the street itself – would be likely to cause similar inconvenience for other residents.”

This shows a staggering lack of understanding and knowledge of Beaumont Street and frankly I expect much better from the County Council.  Here are some facts:

1. There is nobody other than 35 students living near the temporary bus stops. There are no “other residents” living near the bus stops.

2. There are in fact only six other residents on Beaumont Street in total: 3 at number 15 and 3 at number 33. That’s six elsewhere vs 35 in close proximity to each other with the bus stops right on top of them and just about to sit finals. People on the top decks of double-deckers are now looking into the student rooms on the 1st floor while they are trying to study.

On that basis I suggest that these bus stops could not have been put in a worse place. Any City or County Councillor for the area could have told the County Highways department this, as could have a quick look at the electoral register.

I really feel sorry for the 35 students living at 5-7 Beaumont Street, about to sit finals and with buses stopping and loading/unloading right outside their windows 18 hours per day. It must be awful to be on the first floor and have those on the top deck of double-deckers peering in while you’re trying to study.

I have emailed more people in the County Council today in an attempt to get this mess sorted out and the problem at least mitigated.

Update 20 May PM:  I have had a helpful phone call from Stagecoach Oxford saying they will get a company member of staff to attend regularly at the bus stops to encourage people to wait quietly and to monitor the situation.  She also said she would get some laminated signs put up asking people to wait quietly.  This is helpful and I hope will make at least some difference.bus stop signs

Update 21 May PM:  And the signs are up!  I hope they help keep the noise and disturbance down.

Jewish Cultural Fair – Lag B’Omer

Jewish Cultural FairI enjoyed opening this festival today and it was especially good to do as it is the first time Oxford has seen a Jewish celebration fair.  Rabbi Eli Brackman welcomed me as he has been heavily involved in the organisation that the Oxford Chabad Society has done for the event.  I was introduced by the Town Crier of Oxford, Anthony Church.  Was was glad he had his bell and loud voice with him!

There are many fairs and festivals established in our City so it’s great to see a new venture to celebrate Lag B’omer, an ancient Jewish holiday.   Lag B’Omer is celebrated on the 33rd day of the period between Passover and Shavuot and is meant to be a day of celebration during the 49 day period of contemplation and spiritual preparation for the giving of the Torah.

challahI’ve said this before: One of the wonderful things about Oxford for me is the great diversity of faiths and cultures and today’s celebration was certainly a very welcome addition to that. I hope it is the first of many such successful fairs.

There was lots of music at the festival and was really pleased to see a harpist Fien Barnett-Neefs and and the Klezmer band She Koyokh. The music really helped to make a great carnival atmosphere in the sunny weather.

There were two food stalls and they were both incredibly popular.  I had a delicious falafel sandwich.  There were also crafts stalls and on one of them there was the chance to make Challah bread.  I had a couple of attempts and they’ve turned out actually quite well!  There was also pottery painting and candle making, a book stall and a Jewish Scribal Stand.  There were even pony rides for children!

Also at the event was the Oxford Jewish Heritage Exhibition. A lot of work had gone into putting it together and it is generously sponsored by the heritage lottery fund. It tells a fascinating story of the history of Jewish people in Oxford from mediaeval times and I enjoyed reading it.

Bus stops right outside student rooms and windows!

beaumont bus accommodationI received a very worried email from a student yesterday who’s college accommodation is on Beaumont Street. The County Council has temporarily relocated some bus stops from George Street to right outside his accommodation for the duration of the George Street Closure (several weeks).  As you can see from the picture, the pavement is narrow and the stops really are within centimetres of people’s windows.

The student is understandably concerned because this is a critical time of the year when many students are studying extremely hard and have finals exams in the coming days and weeks. I remember my own finals exams so am acutely aware of what a sensitive time this is for those with exams and how destructive noise disturbance is to study and potentially exam results.

I have today written the Stagecoach and the County Council to try to mitigate or remove the problem and will keep those reading this page updated with any responses I get.  I don’t believe any Oxford Bus Company buses use this route but have also written to them to check.

beaumont busTo Stagecoach (oxford.enquiries@stagecoachbus.com) I wrote:

I’ve had an email from some residents of 5-7 Beaumont Street in central Oxford, very concerned about the temporary bus stops right outside their windows. According to the attached snippet from the Oxford Mail today I think S1, S2, S3, 14, 17 and 18 routes will be using those stops so would you confirm if that is correct, while George Street is closed, and let me know the earliest and latest times that the stops will be serviced by buses please? I am trying to gauge the extent of the disturbance the residents of 5-7 Beaumont Street might be subjected to.

Would you also let me know if there is anything you can do to mitigate the problems of noise that will disturb study and sleep of those living and working at 5-7 Beaumont Street?

To County Highways (highways@oxfordshire.gov.uk) I wrote:

Dear Highways,

I’m afraid there is a serious problem with the relocation of the bus stops from George Street to right outside 5-7 Beaumont Street for the duration of the George Street closure. 5-7 George Street is occupied by some 35 students of Oxford University and many of them are currently studying very hard for their finals exams that are in the coming days and weeks. The bus stop relocation could not have come at a worse time for them as they are at a critical stage of their education and indeed lives. I quote the email from one of them:

“Today myself and the other 35 or so students living in these houses in Beaumont Street have discovered that the Council has installed bus stops directly outside our houses and is intending to use them to serve the bus services that currently run down George Street for 10 weeks. We have received absolutely no notice of this change or proposal, and the College have also informed me that they haven’t received any information about this either. Given that we are all final year students with upcoming exams we are very concerned that what is currently a coach loading bay (used fairly irregularly and only really in daytime hours) and double yellow lines is now going to become several crowded bus stops with dozens of people standing around directly outside of our houses at peak times and into the late evening. We already suffer from quite severe noise from the infrequent use of the coach bay, and are very concerned that this looks likely to worsen severely.”

So I am asking you as the Highways authority if there is any way that the location of these stops can be adjusted so as to reduce the impact on my constituents. Everyone appreciates that the George Street closure is needed but this really is a dreadful time this is to disturb (for about 18 hours per day, 7 days per week) those studying for critical exams. Starting it at the end of June would have been far less disruptive too but I imagine it’s too late to change the schedule now.

Is there anything you can to do help?

So I’ll keep people updated on this and if you are affected I urge you also to write to Stagecoach and to Highways to see if volume of requests to re-think this will have the desired effect.

Update 1151hrs 13 May:  Oxford Bus Co don’t use these stops.  Stagecoach has just sent me a load of timetables.  No reply from County Highways at all.  I have nagged the County Council.

Update 1755 14 May:  I have now spoken with Highways Officers.  There is to be a meeting tomorrow morning (Thursday) to discuss this.  I will speak again to officers first thing to see if the bus stops can be moved a bit further down Beaumont Street to where the first floors of the buildings are not residential accommodation.  This should help a lot.

Update 0839 15 May:  I have just had a really helpful call from a County Council officer.  I feel he completely understand the problem and while the bus stops probably can’t legally be moved in the short time needed, he has agreed to informally ask Stagecoach to see if they can stop a bit further down the road and turn engines off quickly. He’s also going to see about putting some laminated signs on the bus stops asking people to wait quietly as there are residents needing to study very close by.  I’ll monitor the situation – please comment here if you are noticing problems or changes.

Young Enterprise Oxfordshire Finals

enterpriseI was invited to attend this event in two capacities tonight, as Deputy Lord Mayor and as Chair of Governors at Oxford Spires Academy. It was held at the prestigious Saïd Business School of Oxford University.

I attended and took Sue Croft, our Principal at Oxford Spires, with me.  I was delighted that the Oxford Spires team won the best trade stand award and that we were one of only two state secondary schools in Oxford who had got that far in the competition.

The evening had started with exhibition stalls from the nine Young Enterprise Projects that were presenting at the evening and there were some very good stands that looked very professional.  THe evening progressed to the main lecture theatre where each of the nine groups got 4 minutes to present their work.  I was hugely impressed at all the talks and heard some excellent ideas, excellent presentations and really amazing business results from these groups of young people.  It was exciting to see so much passion in people who will surely be the entrepreneurs of the future!  After this I gave a very short speech, thanking all the young people for their excellent work and brilliant presentations and I also reminded them not to let their academic school work suffer as they’d not get too far without good qualifications.  I also handed the participation certificates to all the teams.

After breaking for drinks and networking, and another chance to see the stands, we went back to the lecture theatre for a useful keynote talk by Timon Colegrove, the Chair of the Oxfordshire Institute of Directors.  He made a very important point about never, ever, belittling people for their ideas in business and I think that’s really important.

The main awards were then announced and awarded – the main award went to an excellent business called Toucan, that was sourcing and selling high-quality knitwear from within and to the UK.

winners

 

You can read lots about the Young Enterprise secondary programmes on their website and this video is very good:

 

Proposal for two-way traffic on Becket Street

I’ve also had notification from the County Council of a proposal to change Becket Street to two-way and to move some of its on-street parking to Osney Lane.  The idea is to enable traffic going West-South from Botley Road to Abingdon Road to avoid Frideswide Square in advance of the major works planned to it in spring of 2015.

The plan is here and if you click it you’ll get a bigger version.

becket

The deadline for comments is quite short so please let me know what you think or if you have any questions asap and I’ll also forward any comments left here on this post to the County Council in about a week.

Proposal to change a major junction

I’ve been notified by the County Council of a major change to the junction of Worcester Street/Hythe Bridge Street and George Street to open it up to four-way traffic so that some traffic does not have to loop all the way round Hythe Bridge Street and Park End Street any more.  Traffic going East on Hythe Bridge Street would still only be able to go left into Worcester Street but traffic from all other directions would be able to turn in any direction.  There would also be share cycle/pedestrian features on some corners.  I think these are a good idea as if so many cyclists are jumping red-lights any way, the pragmatic way to deal with that is to design in a safe way of them being able to avoid those red signals in the first place.  You can see the plan here, and you’ll get a large version if you click it.

junction

Time is short on this consultation so if you have any views or questions please do let me or the County Council know as quickly as you can.  I will also forward all comments added to this blog post.

 

Oxford Canal Heritage Project Launch and Open Day

I had great fun this morning with the Oxford Canal Heritage project.  We started with an opening at the start of the canal on Hythe Bridge Street where I gave a short speech and thanked those involved for the work done so far in the project.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We moved on later to the Old Fire Station where we had coffee and lovely biscuits made by Restore.  Tony Joyce gave a short speech as chair of the Civic Society,  as did I.

Some might think that canals are really only relevant to the past but this could not really be further from the truth – canals are often vibrant arteries of life in our Cities and Oxford’s is certainly no exception.

Not only is Oxford canal a green lung and recreation space for many of Oxford’s people and visitors it also contributes to the economy of our City in so many other important ways. Transport is easy along the canal towpath and along the canal itself for water-borne vessels. People use the canal for walking, jogging, cycling, angling, boating and many other pursuits. Many enjoy a simple wander along its towpath in this green and pleasant part of Oxford absorbed by the myriad fascinating and wonderful sights and sounds along its banks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou’ll probably be aware of how acutely short of housing Oxford is. Of course the canal helps here too as there are many boats moored that are actually the homes of Oxford people who are contributing greatly to our City in all sorts of ways. I think this is a great way to live and be housed and will certainly do all I can to make sure the Council supports canal-dwellers as well as it possibly can.
It is good that plans to redevelop the Jericho Boatyard are progressing and I think that will be very important in preserving the traditional Oxford Boating community as immortalised in booked such local author Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights. There are many other great books about Oxford Canal such as “A towpath walk in Oxford” by Mark Davies and Catherine Robinson.

Canals are often not as well-known as rivers in Cities, and are seen as poorer second cousins. The Thames, or Isis has certainly been making itself known recently with its flooding earlier in the year but today is about taking some of the limelight for the canal. I’m so pleased that the Canal Heritage project has done, and is doing, so much good work to challenge that relative obscurity and bring the canal back into the public eye, back up the agenda of so many people and organisations.

It’s good to hear the vision of the project in ensuring that the canal becomes a distinctive and well-known destination for locals, students and tourists and visitors. I think opportunities to learn about the canal’s industrial heritage while enjoying its natural environment will be very attractive to all who live in, study in, work in or just visit our City. I am delighted that future visitors will be able to find this gem more easily thanks to a dedicated gateway, improved signage and accessible information presented in a range of formats from information pillars to audio trails. This is great work!

Oxford is a City that is good at community involvement so I am pleased to see that this is also an aim of this work. Knowledge, skills and interests of many local communities from Wolvercote to Jericho have been invaluable in getting it this far. I am grateful to all their input and that from the boating community, neighbourhood forums, community associations, schools, faith groups, businesses and shops. It’s a great team effort!

If you haven’t had a look at it yet I recommend the excellent website that has been set up about this project. It has a wealth of resources including maps and a great audio guide. See www.oxfordcanalheritage.org