I took this screen shot just now, 2320hrs. It shows a Labour Oxford City Councillor saying how much he enjoys the Gym and Swimming Facilities at Temple Cowley Pools. And Mike Rowley, the Labour executive member with responsibility for leisure facilities, has “liked” the status. The Labour Councillor would have been at the pool and gym first thing this morning by my reckoning.
This is just a few hours after the Labour ruling group on the City Council was laughing at and interrupting Jane Alexander of the Save Temple Cowley Pools campaign when she gave a public address to the full City Council meeting yesterday evening about how much the pools, gym, sauna and steam are used and loved by the local community. Flabbergasted only starts to describe how I feel about this Labour contempt for the people of Oxford.
That is truly shocking hypocrisy!
Note the post I have reproduced here has a little icon of the world just beside the words “17 hours ago via Mobile”. That icon means the post is public and visible to anyone in the world with a facebook account, so I haven’t breached any privacy.
This is the second event I have attended with the Oxfordshire Filipino Community and I received a wonderful warm welcome just as I did the last time. The day started with a small procession and then we moved into the sports hall at Oxford Brookes for speeches, singing of national anthems, flag-raising, some traditional dancing and singing, and welcoming of all the teams. Every team member was named and all teams got to fly their own banners. It was good to see some Thames Valley Police PCSOs in the procession with the Uk flag the Union Jack and also hoisting it up a flag pole after I had helped to hoist a Philippines flag.
Today was the 10th annual sports festival of this community and it’s a great joy that for the first time this year the Nepalese community of Oxfordshire joined in for a friendly competition. It was great to see so many different events happening today in including men’s basketball and volleyball for both men and women. All these are so important for building camaraderie, community cohesion and sportsmanship among our communities and I could see they were a huge amount of fun for all the people and families present.
I was welcomed to this event as Deputy Lord Mayor today by Anne Mogridge (Chair of the Littlemore Community Association) and Dorian Hancock (Secretary of the Littlemore Community Association). I had the honour of opening it with Oxford East’s MP, the Rt. Hon Andrew Smith MP. The day kicked off with a marvellous display or dancing from children and a leader from “Messy Jam” doing some amazing dancing. Andrew and I are pictured with the leader. There was face painting for children and a fire engine was in attendance with some local firefighters who were happily posing for pictures with those at the event. It was a busy event with lots of stalls and lot of activities throughout the day.
I gave a short speech and reflected on all the work so many regular users of the community centre do. The include the Playgroup (serving Littlemore for 45 years!), the Children’s Centre, the History Society, the Martial Arts Class, the Church of God of Prophecy, the Job Club, the AgeUK IT Classes and the coffee mornings. This is all made possible by the diligent stewardship of the Littlemore Community Association. Communities like Littlemore, our county’s third largest parish, depend on dedicated volunteers and it’s great to see such community spirit in action.
With a football team; two primaries and one secondary school; a superstore; an hospital; a science park; three churches; two shopping precincts and even its own post office Littlemore certainly is an area deserving of celebration by events like this family fun day. I had a really good time!
I was invited earlier this week to the Grand Opening ceremony of the New Dining Hall and Lounge for Jewish students and community at the Chabad House of Oxford (on Cowley Road in East Oxford) so I went along. I was very impressed by what I saw – a house of welcome and resources for Jewish students and community. Clearly a lot of work has gone on as the dining area and the lounge are now positively sparkling! There were some good speeches including from the Lord Mayor of Oxford and the President of OUSU and it was good to hear from the families of those who had made the work possible by their kind donations.
I was quite moved by the story from the son of Reb Yitzchok Dovid Tajtelbaum, who had survived the holocaust and done so much to rebuild Jewish communities in so many places.
It’s so good that Oxford has proper provision for students and community members of so many faiths and this Chabad House is just another example of that.
It’s great to see too that Rabbi Eli has his own blog.
This evening I went to the first meeting in Oxford of Priced Out. Priced out UK is a group that campaigns for affordable housing for all. I was struck at how many people were sharing the same or similar stories about appalling charges made by some unscrupulous letting agents and also stories of it being so hard to get a property in Oxford at all, as either tenant or owner.
There were some useful people there from both City and County councils and we had a great discussion about causes of the problem, particularly in Oxford and ways that the problem might be eased. Oxford is very short on land and is tightly bordered by Green Belt land and it seems rents just go up and up even in the current economic climate and people will still pay them. I see among my colleagues any younger than about 35 people really struggling to buy a home in Oxford and inevitably having to live further afield and then also having to cope with all the expense of commuting into Oxford to work.
We talked also about innovating schemes like encouraging letting agencies to cut back on ancillary fees in return for recognition as quality agents. We also talked about how many would appreciate longer tenancy terms (perhaps if they are starting families of have children of school age) and how the return for that might be a bit of a change in legislation so that delinquent tenants (those that stop paying) could be less of a burden on landlords. The whole meeting was constructive and helpful and I thank Duncan Stott for organising it, Saint Columba’s URC (my church, incidentally) for hosting it and Tim Lund for letting me use the above picture that he took.
Duncan has done some great work with Priced Out (as well as being a good Lib Dem friend) and I wish him and the campaign every success. If you share its aims and/or are yourself facing some of the problems it is trying address the please do take a look at its website at http://www.pricedout.org.uk and follow it on twitter at @pricedoutuk
I was invited to a dinner today that was part of the “Murder in the Cloisters” widening participation event run by Oxford University’s Widening Participation Team. This team works with state school students aged 9-16 (Year 5 to Year 11) in Oxfordshire, Milton Keynes and Buckinghamshire to help them understand what they could gain from further or higher education, and what type of study might suit them best. I was pleased to see that it is not just about recruiting young people to Oxford University but about widening participation in all Higher Education
“Murder is the Cloisters” is a residential event for Year 8 and Year 9 students. This three day subject taster event allows students to experience Law, Classics and Chemistry in a university setting. Working with actors (the Oxford Imps), the students interrogate ‘suspects’, examine evidence and work together in their groups to solve a murder. Students stay in Pembroke College and eat in the dining hall giving them a real taste for what life at University is like. The dinner was good and there was some great acting designed to get the young people to think and work together to gather evidence and process it. I was so engrossed that I had to go back the next day to find out the solution to the murder mystery!
I think widening participation activity is incredibly important, particularly in Oxford where we have two world class Universities but have historically struggled with below-average educational attainment at secondary and primary level. I think this sort of event can work wonders to boost confidence and aspiration in Oxford’s young people and really encourage them to be the best they can be at school so they can then access higher education and all the life opportunities that offers.
The widening participation team also offers the Oxford Young Ambassadors scheme, aimed at young people who have little or no family history of Higher Education, and the Compass Young Carers programme, aimed at children and young people with caring responsibilities at home.
All of this work is fantastic at enabling young people in our area to make informed decisions about their future education and life and I think it’s an amazing initiative. It’s certainly something I’ll keep in mind with my work as a governor at Oxford Spires Academy.
A 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.
There were three hearings today: A variation for Thirst Lodge on Park End Street, a new license for The Oxford Kebab House on Manzil Way and a license review for the Hi-Lo Jamaican Eating House on Cowley Road.
I couldn’t hear the first as the Council has a policy that ward councillors cannot decide licensing applications in their own wards. I am not alone in thinking this is silly as we are perfectly allowed to make planning decisions (which are much more final if they are approvals) and we have good training and strict rules about declaring conflicts of interest in any case.
The first hearing was basically an application for an extra half hour of opening at Thirst Lodge. Everyone acknowledged that this is a well-run venue but Thames Valley Police were objecting on the basis of the City Centre Special Saturation Policy (SSP). I have to say I think the Police were right to object. The decision was to grant the variation and personally I think that was the wrong decision as it undermines the validity of the SSP. While Thirst is very well run so probably won’t be a problem with an extra half hour, I’d not like to commit to that position for all venues in the City Centre SSP area.
The second hearing was the license review for the Hi-Lo Jamaican eating house. This was quite difficult as there was clearly some misunderstanding on the part of the license holder about what was permitted and what was not, as well as when it was permitted. Part of the problem is that this was a license “grandfathered” from the pre-2003 Act licensing arrangements so some of the terminology in it was obsolete. We had a good discussion with the licensee and with City Council Environmental Protection (EP) and eventually decided that a short suspension of the ability to play licensable live or recorded music was in order. We were told that lots of measures had been put in place to mitigate the problems that had been the basis of lots of complaints (with lots of evidence from Environmental Protection Officers) but as the problems had been severe and ongoing we felt it necessary for another visit from EP to happen so this could be officially checked. If all was in order we were happy then for the licensing team to re-instate the licensable music on the premises license. We also clarified that after the terminal hour for licensable music then background (non-licensable) music should be just that – barely audible in the premises itself, let alone in adjoining premises or outside. I hope that things will be resolved soon and that the license can be re-instated once EP is happy that the premises can operate without damaging the rights of it neighbours to quiet enjoyment of their own premises. It should be noted that we did nothing to the hours during which the venue is allowed to serve food or alcohol as neither of these had been the cause of any complaints.
The final hearing was by the Oxford Kebab House which is on Manzil Way in the medical centre. The application was for live and recorded music and again, I think there was some confusion about what type and level of music actually required a license. The applicant explained that the lice music would be acoustic, Persian music played in the upstairs restaurant area up to only around 11pm. There were concerns from some residents about noise in and around the venue but we felt that these could be managed as the premises operator is experienced in such things and has a good record. We encouraged all neighbours to keep in touch and reminded all that the license could be reviewed if it transpired there were problems at an unacceptable level.
As always, please note that this post does not form an official record of proceedings and should not be treated as such. The decision notice from the City Council is always the definitive document.
Just a quick post to say that planning permission was granted at yesterday’s planning review committee with an extra condition that lighting be installed on the access route – this was made a grampian condition meaning that if it can’t be met (e.g. if the landowner of the access route, the county council in this case, refuses to allow lighting) then the permission will fall. I chaired the meeting and it passed off without any bad behaviour at all.
I would say more about the meeting but I have been subjected to an extremely foul email today from one of the Governors of East Oxford Primary School so I want to deal with that first. It contained:
“…Tony was seated at the head of the table, a place/position which he should not have taken, especially from what he did early by making such statements. Everything looked pre-planned beautifully. How was he even allowed in the room is beyond me? … Furthermore I must add how ashamed I am, that I have to live in a city, where people (councillors) like these have powers, and misuse them however they please. Undermining the greater good in our communities, especially for our school. Dismissing what’s important and siding with something that would do more harm than good. Personally I don’t know how they got their seats in the first place, or why they gave the go ahead on such an important matter, obviously this was an under hand job, maybe bribery was used?…
<name removed by me> (parent governor E.O.P.S)“
I won’t name the sender here but the email went to all 48 members of Oxford City Council so I guess it will get out eventually. It really is not nice being accused of accepting a bribe and I must say, if the sender had been listening at the meeting the sender would have noticed that I recorded an abstention on the vote. There was one other abstention, one against and 6 in favour of the application so it would have been granted however I voted and I don’t think anyone can reasonably accuse me of taking sides – I ran the meeting fairly and objectively as I hope those present will testify!
The meeting was not helped either by the Oxford Mail publishing an inflammatory story that same day that tried to pitch me against the residents by using a photo of Union Street onto which I had been superimposed. I consider that photo to have been extremely misleading and unhelpful to the planning process. If you click the picture here to enlarge it you’ll see around the border of my head how badly the journalists have pasted my image onto the scene.
We visited the site of planning application for some student accommodation in a constrained little site off Union Street in East Oxford, near to East Oxford Primary School and one of its external sports areas. This application was approved by West Area Planning Committee last month and was call-in to Planning Review Committee. We should have heard it on 30th November but as that was the day of strikes, I and many other committee members agreed not to cross the picket line and to defer the meeting. We now re-determine the application on 15th December.
This application is the one that was the subject of the nasty anti-student comments I posted about last month so I thought we ought to have a site visit to try to get a feel for the site and try to understand the position of all people and groups concerned.
I was grateful that two planning officers were able to attend and explain the site to us, with the proper plans. I attended along with Nuala Young and Mike Rowley so that means at least some of the committee will have first-hand experience of the site. I’m sure others will know it too as it is currently the site of the “Plebs College” squat so it’s been in the news a lot lately.
I shan’t comment here on my views on the merits or otherwise of the application as I want to be able to listen carefully to what people say and make an unbiased decision at the meeting on Thursday 15th December. Click the picture to see a larger version of it.