Thames Valley Police and Crime Panel

image tweeted by @biloddy

I attended this meeting today because I am the opposition shadow for crime and community safety on the council. Oxford’s member on the panel is Cllr Pat Kennedy, the Oxford City Executive Board member with that portfolio.  The panel’s job is to hold the Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley to account.  This Commissioner’s area covers Oxon, Berks and Bucks so is rather large – it has one member from every principal local authority in the area, giving a membership of:

Councillor Bill Bendyshe-Brown (Wycombe District Council), Councillor Mark Booty (West Oxfordshire District Council), Councillor Noel Brown (Chiltern District Council), Terry Burke (Independent Co-opted Member), Councillor Anita Cranmer (South Buckinghamshire District Council), Councillor Trevor Egleton (Buckinghamshire County Council), Councillor Jesse Grey (Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead), Councillor Bill Jones (Vale of White Horse District Council), Councillor Pat Kennedy (Oxford City Council), Councillor Kieron Mallon (Oxfordshire County Council) (Vice-Chairman), Councillor Iain McCracken (Bracknell Forest Council), Councillor Tony Page (Reading Borough Council), Councillor Barrie Patman (Wokingham Borough Council), Councillor Pam Pearce (Aylesbury Vale District Council), Councillor George Reynolds (Cherwell District Council), Councillor Bill Service (South Oxfordshire District Council), Councillor Mohammed Sharif (Slough Borough Council), Rajinder Sohpal (Independent Co-opted Member), Councillor Cec Tallack (Milton Keynes Council) and Councillor Quentin Webb (West Berkshire Council)

It elected a chair and vice chair today for the year, and we heard the Police and Crime Panel Annual report as well as the annual report from the commissioner himself.  There was a bit of a silly debate about the Commissioner’s expenses where the panel decided it was not its remit to decide if the Commissioner should have a driver or not.  There was a report from the Oxford Safer Communities Partnership, which I think does great work in our City an update on issues particularly of importance to Oxford as a City.  There was an update on operation Bullfinch from Chief Constable Sara Thornton and Superintendent Christian Bunt and they also gave an excellent overview of the work Thames Valley Police is doing to develop multi-agency approaches to child sexual exploitation.

At the end of the meeting Cllr Kennedy and I asked about the closure of the custody suite at St. Aldate’s police station meaning that all prisoners would now have to be taken to Abingdon.  I felt assured by Supt. Bunt that this was a sensible move as the Oxford facilities are awkward being at the top of the building and rather past their sell-by date.   He said he would circulate a short memo to councillors addressing concerns about the risk of new arrangements meaning police officers might take longer to get back on the streets after an arrest and I was reassured that vulnerable people arrested in Oxford then released from Abingdon would not be just put on the street with no means to get back to Oxford.

pcpYou can follow the PCP on twitter as @ThamesValleyPCP and the commissioner as @TV_PCC


Lib Dem Achievements in Government

I don’t often post about the party rather than what I’m up to or what I think so I thought I would today.

Mark Pack, a well known Lib Dem has produced a wonderful poster to remind us of all the great things that the Lib Dems have achieved in government and I wanted to share it here.

Lib Dem achievements in government.

There is also an A3 PDF available for printing.  For those of you with screen readers I’ll list the achievements here too:

  1. Income tax cuts with 2.7m lower earners being freed of income tax burden completely.
  2. Tax hikes for the rich – a £1m/year earner will pay £381k tax more over the five years of this government than they did under the last 5 years of the Labour government
  3. Created the world’s first National Green Development Bank
  4. Started move than 502,600 apprenticeships in 20011/12 – more than Britain has ever had before.
  5. The pupil premium – in 2013 their school is given £900 for each eligible child (generally those that get free school meals or have done so in the last six years)
  6. Pensions and earnings are linked better again so we won’t see repeats of some of the awful derisory rises that we have seen in the past.
  7. Bank reform means that High Street banks will be better protected from some of the excesses of casino banking that really hit the UK in the banking crisis
  8. Civil Liberties:  scrapping ID cards, banning storing DNA of innocent people, stopping detention of children during immigration cases, cutting the maximum period of detention without charge, and much more.
  9. Protecting post offices
  10. Building more homes.  190,000 affordable units over the next four years.  The first net increase in social housing for over 30 years.
  11. Equal Marriage – very nearly there!
  12. Shared parental leave and 15 hours of free childcare for all 3 and 4 year olds.

All pretty amazing stuff!

Car number plate thefts – please be vigilant and secure yours

number platesA set of car number plates were stolen on Wednesday 27th February in Marsh Road, Oxford. That’s just by my local pub, the Marsh Harrier! Stolen number plates are used in a variety of crimes often replacing plates on stolen cars, or fitted to cars which are driven recklessly followed by non-payment of parking and speeding fines, also filling up with fuel and driving off without paying. All of these crimes will in the first instance lead the police back to you and can be very distressing.

This type of theft continues to happen weekly in Oxford, so I encourage you to consider fitting anti-tamper screws to your number plates. You can seek advice from your local garage or car dealer. I’ve just spoken to Motorists Discount Centre (two branches in Oxford). They stock kits of four of these security screws for £3.99 and I think they are really worth fitting if you can. Too many newer cars these days just have the plates stuck on with sticky pads leaving them too easy to remove intact then and use on another vehicle to commit crime that will be traced back to you!

Please check that your number plates are intact on a regular basis, if you do discover that they are missing report to the police immediately via the non-emergency number, 101. You are in a much better position if a crime is reported by someone with a vehicle displaying your plates if you have already reported them stolen! But it’s even better to have taken steps to avoid having them stolen in the first place.

Amazing work from City Works again!

Some of you will be aware that I worship at St. Columba’s United Reformed Church on Sundays. This morning, those that arrived a bit early (around 10am) found most of the recycling bins (that I think belong to All Bar One) emptied all over Alfred Street so there was masses of rubbish and broken glass everywhere. Too much certainly to drive over. This was a big problem as we were due a visit from the Churches together in Central Oxford ecumenical donkey at 10.45am.  What you see in the picture is almost the end of the clean-up.  It was FAR worse than that.

One of our elders phones City Works and I was hugely impressed at how quickly they got there and what a great job they did of clearing up.  These guys really are  a credit to our City.  Thank you!

I do wonder why it is places like All Bar One are allowed to leave so many recycling containers all over the street on Saturday night into Sunday though.  They are incredibly ugly and I don’t think commercial collections happen on Sundays anyway.

An unexpected dinner at Exeter College and a great presentation by the Chief Constable

I was invited at short notice to dinner at Exeter College today by a friend.  I had the great pleasure of sitting next to the Rector, Dr Frances Cairncross and we had a good discussion about Labour’s housing policies in the City including the apparent contradiction of making development difficult by insisting on huge financial contributions to other housing and the push to get more and more students out of family housing so it can be released to the rest of the market.

The dinner was extremely enjoyable and it was good to talk a bit about local politics (at their instigation) with some academic members of Exeter’s staff.  One College member was celebrating her fifth birthday as she had been born on February 29th, 20 years ago.  Actually I’d say it was her fourth as there was no leap year in 2000!

After the meal we were treated to an excellent presentation by the Thames Valley Police Chief Constable, Sara Thornton CBE QPM.  Sara had been the guest of The Rector of the College and was giving a talk to some students studying criminology.  The title of the talk was “Does it Matter if there are Fewer Police Officers in the Future?”.  I was hugely impressed at Sara’s strong sense of justice both for victim as well as the accused.  I thought her insights into what makes good Policing and how communities work were really fascinating and resonated very much with my thinking about Policing being about helping people to get it right as well as just catching and criminalising them when they get it wrong.  Sara also had great insight into targeting Policing where it will have the best effect.

The pocket park on Middle Fisher Row

I visited this area today on the request of the owner and operator of The Oxford Retreat as he is concerned about antisocial behaviour, drug use and damage to the rear fence of his venue.  I was pleased to have a Street Scene team leader with me to give advice on what might be possible.

The problem is that this little pocket of land, just behind Middle Fisher Row (between Park End Street and Hythe Bridge Street) is very badly lit an so tends to attract all sort of antisocial behaviour.  Drugs paraphernalia, broken glass and all sorts of other rubbish are found there by the street scene team most days.  The area also attracts people urinating or worse in the small hours of the morning as it is so much part of the light night entertainment area of the City.

You can see the damage to the rear fence of the Oxford Retreat in the picture – the apparently happens regularly.  There have been break-ins too.

I think there are lots of angles on this problem – lighting must help so I’ll investigate that and it may be that a better fence needs to be erected to protect the fence that is the property of the Oxford Retreat.  I don’t want to see the area fenced off but it might make sense to allow some community or commercial use of the area so it’s bit less likely to attract problems.  Watch this space!  The first job will be to work out who owns the land.

City Centre Neighbourhood Action Group

These meetings are always useful and I was impressed at the chairing skills of Matt Sulley, the Police Officer who has taken over the running of the group.  We had some useful discussion about what to do about speeding on St. Giles and also about some antisocial behaviour issues in the City Centre.  I commented about how many obscenely drunk people there are in the City Centre in the small hours, particularly at the weekends, and suggested that some venues must be serving people who are too drunk.  I do hope Oxford can try to lead the way on doing something about this as getting that drunk is really not good for the health of anyone involved and I can’t really believe it’s a good night out either to have to be picked up by by a parent and drive home with your head in a washing up bowl!

The meeting was rather short as we had full council at 5pm.

Redevelopment plans for Luther Court

I went to an interesting exhibition today about a2dominion‘s plans for redevelopment of Luther Court. This is an area of social housing in a difficult and constrained part of the City Centre and it would be fair to say it has been the victim, and site of, a lot of antisocial behaviour over the years. It comprises of lots of rather small and poky one-bedroomed flats that I’m sure are not ideal for the well-being both mental and physical of their tenants.  Currently the accommodation all faces, and has its access from, the North East side facing onto Luther Street Medical Centre and O’Hanlon House.  I think it would be fair to say that the interaction of some potential clients unable to be accepted by the Medical Centre or O’Hanlon House, and some of the more vulnerable tenants in the current Luther Court has not always produced optimal outcomes.  (click the image below to see a non-squashed version of it!)

The new plan is to demolish the current accommodation and to rebuild it on more levels and facing South West onto Thames Street with access only from that side.  The new accommodation would include more two- and possibly three-bedroomed units suitable for small families and would be to much higher standards of building, light provision and so on.  There is a plan to include lots of secure bike parking and  some student accommodation.  The development would be completely car-free and residents would be excluded from having City Centre residents’ parking permits.

I filled in a comment sheet and made the following points:

  • While I welcome purpose-built student accommodation, particularly in the City Centre, I do think it works better if there is a resident warden to nip any behaviour or noise issues in the bud.  It was indicated that this would probably be done by utilising more mature residents in return for a reduce rent.
  • I hope the development will utilise renewable energy including Solar Thermal and/or PV systems as these work incredibly well even in our climate and can make a real difference to social tenants struggling to pay ever-increasing fuel bills.  Anything that can keep people out a fuel poverty is a good thing in my book!
  • I welcome this consultation event and encourage a2dominion to have lots more making sure local residents are informed and invited widely and that communication with all local stakeholders is maintained
  • I asked also that a2dominion take into account the wishes of their current tenants in Luther Court carefully and sensitively.  I believe they will and offered to help in any way I can as ward councillor.

As these plans are worked up and come to the planning permission stage I will of course have to back away and keep an open mind about any plans that are actually submitted to the planning process in case I have to take part in a determination of the planning application at a committee.  At this stage though I think can honestly, and without prejudicing myself, say things look promising!

I am grateful to a2dominion for keeping me informed as a local councillor at this early stage of planning what could be a really effective and exciting new development.

Turning Gloucester Green into a food court?

I have received much correspondence this week from concerned residents of The Chilterns, the apartments that are along two sides of Gloucester Green.  The applications are 11/01135, 11/01140 and 11/01142. The first appears to be on the West side and the second two on the North side.  All applications are for a change of use from use class A1 (retail) to A3 (hot food restaurant and/or takeaway).

Concerns are around the much larger amount of rubbish A3 units tend to produce and its storage as these are quite constrained sites.  There is also concern that food waste not stored properly will cause bad smells and attract vermin.  I certainly share those concerns and also those about late night running of noisy ventilation fans and of course all the people-noise that more food outlets will inevitably bring.  Some objections are based on the impact more A3 will have on the viability of existing A3 premises but unfortunately this is not a planning reason that can be taken into account when determining a planning application.

What can be taken into account is the actual noise, smell, refuse problems that more A3 units will inevitably cause.  I think this would be a step too far in reducing amenity and increasing nuisance for residents of The Chilterns so I hope these applications are turned down.  There is already another hour added to the opening time (making it 4am) of a food outlet that backs onto the cinema (subject of an earlier blog post) and I really do think that enough is enough this time.

The applicants seem to make the argument that the retail units are not financially viable and that the only way to make these units viable is to let them be food outlets.  I think the applicants (who are the landlords) are rather forgetting that the financial equation also includes the rent payable to the landlord. These applications therefore do rather strike me as yet another landlord being greedy and trying to maximise profit without showing any regard for the amenity of the area, balance of uses of premises or the rights of quiet enjoyment of their properties that those living in the area have.

I am pleased that these applications have been called into the West Area Planning Committee by my Lib Dem colleagues Stephen Brown, Alan Armitage, David Rundle and Jim Campbell and I do hope that when it comes to determine the applications  the new West Area Planning Committee will turn them down.

In the event that the planning use changes are granted then I hope the provisions of the Licensing Act 2003 can be used to prevent any new A3 units from operating late at night and into the small hours that further disturbing the residents of The Chilterns.

City Centre Neighbourhood Action Group

This group met today and discussed various issues around crime and safety in the City Centre area.  It consists of lots of Thames Valley Police staff right from Inspector to Police Community Support Officers.  Community safety officers and estate managers are present as well as resident, park rangers, the City Centre Manager and Nightsafe.

nag.jpg The agenda included discussions about drug dealing & misuse, alcohol-related antisocial behaviour and litter issues.

The NAGs are actually very useful in terms of keeping all the relevant authorities, including the Police,  in touch with each other and enable a much more holistic approach to general community safety and well-being than would otherwise be possible.