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.


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


More restaurants/bars on George Street – what about the bins?

I’ve noticed this week that another two planning applications for change to so-called A3 use have been made for George Street in the City Centre.  Some will oppose more bars/restaurants completely but I feel that the balanced view across my constituents is that restaurants/cafés are better than emtpy units so long as they do not contribute to late night drunkeness and/or noise and safety nuisance.  As these things can be controlled by licensing policy I think there is no reason to oppose the planning applications outright.


One thing that is a worry is that this sort of use generates a lot of waste and lots of that is food waste.  This can be a real problem if it is left out on the street for hours or even days as it often is.  Large bins look awful and obstruct the street and food waste can attract vermin and smell bad in warmer weather.

The two planning applications are:

14/01050/FUL for 6-12 George Street:
Change of use of ground floor and basement from Shop (Use Class A1) to Restaurants and Cafés (Use Class A3)


14/01091/FUL for 25-27 George Street
Change of use of ground floor from Use Class A2 (Financial and Professional Services) to Use Class A3 (Restaurants and cafés).

You can click either to see the detail.  I have made identical comments on both:

Commenter Type: Ward Councillor
Stance: Customer made comments neither objecting to or supporting the Planning Application
Reasons for comment: – Effect on pollution
– Information missing from plans
– Other – give details
Comments: In principle it is good to see units being put into use on George Street and I have no objection to Cafés/Restaurants. If permission is granted, I request that a rigorous and enforceable condition is included requiring the operators of the A3 use to store waste/bins on the premises at all times except immediately before and after waste collection. I request that the condition is precise as possible (as required by Government guidance on conditions) so that it is enforceable and effective.

Do feel free to do the same yourself or comment differently if you prefer.  Neither deadline has passed as I write this.

A lovely memorial planter for Gloucester Street

tony_planter_gloucester_streetLate last year I had an enquiry from a resident in Carfax Ward.  She was a little upset that an area of Gloucester Street that she and few others had been looking after as a memorial garden had been covered over with tarmac.  The memorial was in the area where there had been a tree that had sadly fallen in high winds back in 2002 and tragically had caused a fatality by hitting an occupied vehicle.

I had enquired with the City Council Street Scene team about what could be done and had a very helpful and constructive meeting with a member of staff, and my resident from Carfax ward. The final result is now in place and I am delighted with how it looks, as is my resident.  A big thank you to The City Council Street Scene team for excellent work!

Committee meeting of St John Street Area Residents Association

800px-StJohnStOxfordI attended the committee meeting of the St John Street Area Residents association today largely to give advice and support on the upcoming appeal concerning the St Cross Planning application.  Last summer St Cross College put in a planning application for a rather large and inappropriate building on the corner of Pusey Street and Pusey Lane.  Planning officers recommended approval to the West Area Planning Committee but the member of that committee (I think wisely) decided that the development was not appropriate so turned down the application.  For a while before Christmas I had thought progress was being made on getting the College to get round a table with the Residents’ Association and see if common ground could be reached so an appeal could be avoided.  Sadly this was not to be and an appeal has now started.  We talked through the process and I made clear that it is now the residents helping the council to resist the appeal rather than the resident opposing the council.  Some excellent pooint were made and many residents are extremely well-informed about the issues so I do hope the planning inspector will refuse the appeal when it is heard sometime later this year.

We also talked about the Christmas light night celebrations that has happened last November – while they were very nice and enjoyed by many they did cause traffic chaos in the run up to Christmas, serious losses to City Centre Traders and serious disturbance to the working lives of University students and staff that live, work and sleep in the immediate vicinity of St. Giles.  The message seems to have got across to the Council and it has already been decided that next year’s event will be somewhat re-thought and there will be far fewer road closures.  It will probably centre on Gloucester Green instead.

A walk around Carfax Ward

walkaboutI spent a couple of hours this morning walking around Carfax Ward with officers from Street Scene, Housing, and Highways.  The map to the right shows the rough route we took.  You can click it to see a bigger verion.

We encountered quite a few issues and I will certainly be following them up in the coming days and weeks.  To list a few:


pb graffiti


Lots of graffiti in the Southern part of the ward, near Rose Place.  I will get this reported and hopefully removed if building owners can be found so they can give permission



IMG_20140405_174030Neglected communal garden at Albert House – I’ve written to residents about this and housing officers have said they will see if they can get community payback to do some work there.  As the landlord, the City Council should have been maintaining it.






Lots of Cigarette Butts on the pavement outside the Castle Pub.  This was dealt with very quickly but I will ask the owners/managers if they can fit some ashtrays to the railings outside the pub.




IMG_20140402_105336Flytipping on Woodin’s Way near the old Lion Brewery.  I’ll get this reported so it is quickly removed.





IMG_20140402_111751Unsightly gatherings of commercial waste bins around Gloucester Green.  Officers said they would look at installing some fencing to contain these bins so they don’t look quite as awful.




IMG_20140402_113748Graffiti on the railings around Wellington Square – I’ll get this reported so it can be removed and see if some money can be found to repaint the railings as they are looking rather tatty.




Screenshot_2014-04-05-15-23-39Very dangerous road surface on Banbury Road by St Gile’s church.  This is just outside the ward boundary but I wanted to mention it because I work so close to there and see it causing cyclists to wobble into the path of (often quite fast) traffic coming north from St. Giles. I’m disappointed with this one that I have previously been told by highways officers that it requires no work.  There seemed no harm in asking again.



The morning’s walkabout was useful as a ward walk and I am grateful to officers for the time they gave to do this.  I hope all the issues I will follow up on are dealt with effectively and I will certainly be keeping an eye out!


Imminent risk of flooding of properties in West Oxford: Bulstake Close, Earl Street, Duke Street, Osney Court

floodDuring the night and today water levels have continued to rise. The Environment Agency advises that they are likely to continue to rise for the next 24hours.  At Bulstake Close during the night water started to significantly pass under and around the barrier and in the early hours Oxford City Council staff had to move to the next stage and in a controlled manner allowed water to cross the Botley Road but guided away from the houses in Bulstake Close and Duke and Earl street.

The situation is now becoming serious and staff are not sure that they can cope with the volume of water and continue to protect the properties. Accordingly a joint operation with the Environment Agency, The County Council, The Fire and Rescue Service and Thames Valley Police commenced at 4pm advising householders of the risk of flooding, sensible precautions, evacuation and rest centre arrangements.  This is the advisory note which you should read if you live in that area.

Things to do are:

1. Move any valuable belongings off the ground floor and consider what you will do with your car if it is not in use – please bear in mind that emergency services may need access

2. Make arrangements to vacate your home for at least a few days (can you stay with family / friends?)

3. Check with any insurer, whether the cost of temporary accommodation will be covered – if not, then there is a reception centre, Blackbird Leys Leisure Centre, where the council will assess your requirements and assist you in finding accommodation – transport will be provided for those who need it

4. If you can – block airbricks, protect doorways, put down toilet bungs for ground floor lavatories

5. Switch off your electricity/gas

6. Keep yourself up-to-date with the latest information on the radio, website, facebook / twitter etc.

Agencies are continuing to monitor the situation in the other areas of the city which are vulnerable which is serious but not critical. There is a 24/7 operation from the Emergency Control Centre in St Aldate’s Chambers.

Please also keep an eye on these websites:



The Oxford Mail has a useful blog with updates too.

Emergency phone numbers are:

Police, Ambulance, Fire 999 (emergencies only)
Thames Valley Police 101 (non-emergency)
Oxford City Council out-of-hours 01865 249811
Thames Water 08459 200 800
Southern Electric 08457 444 555
National Grid (if you smell gas, call from a telephone outside your home) 0800 111 999
Oxford Fire & Rescue (non-emergency) 01865 842999

Pretty impressive work by City Council streetscene team



On Monday, I reported that the bike markings going into Wellington Square from Little Clarendon Street were very badly faded and that this was sometimes causing conflict between cyclists and pedestrians. I reported this to streetscene@oxford.gov.uk



I am very impressed that by yesterday evening the lines were re-painted. A big thank you and well done to the council staff that did this. I’m very grateful as I’m sure are all those that use that route regularly, live or work near it.

I know this seems like a small thing but things like this are quite important to lots of people and it’s great to see the Council being so helpful and responsive.

Planning application for St Cross College rejected

St Cross College submitted a planning application over the summer I was quick to alert residents in the immediate area about it.  It would be fair to say that the area of the application site does need some sorting out as it’s a bit of a mess at the moment but it seems to me that the St Cross planning application had some features that seemed more about ticking boxes than actually doing some appropriate development.

I worked with the St. John Street area Residents’ Association and had a very constuctive meeting with them back on 10th August to help better understand their concerns and work out how best to articulate those to the council and to the members of the West Area Planning Committee who would be determining the application.  I was impressed at how well people pulled together to get all the points in a high-impact, extremely effective summary that was delivered to the planning committee when it met.


I think the image here shows how the design with very square and blocky features would just jar terribly against the existing chapel and against the roof-lines of the existing St. John Street properties.

As it turned out, despite the planning department recommending approval of this rather inappropriate proposal, most members of the West Area Planning committee voted against the proposal so it was rejected.   The application fell 6 against, 2 for (Cllrs Cook & Gotch in favour; Cllrs Van Nooijen, Tanner, Price, Canning, Clack & Jones against).  I believe this is the right result and I hope that a more suitable proposition will be forthcoming in the future so that St Cross can build the extra accommodation it badly needs without doing quite so much damage to the amenity and beauty of this sensitive part of Oxford’s historic centre.

Fracking can frack right off!

I’ve received quite a few standard format emails about fracking so I thought I’d post a response here.  The emails all say:

“I’m very concerned about the prospect of fracking – or hydraulic fracturing – in our area.

Fracking has been linked to contamination of water supplies and atmospheric pollution, as well as increased traffic to construction sites. The government has promised lower energy bills if gas and oil from fracking is produced, but even the fracking companies admit this is unlikely to happen.

I would like to know if any companies are planning to carry out fracking in this area and whether any relevant licences have been sold. If so, I would be grateful if you could let me know your position on the matter and what steps I can take to register my objections.

If there are no current plans or licences, I would be grateful if you could keep me informed of any future developments.”

My response is:

“Absolutely! I see fracking as environmental vandalism of the worst type. My view is crystal clear: We DO NOT need to burn more hydrocarbons, even if it is safe to get them out of the ground. And it probably isn’t. We need to use less energy and use renewables more. I’ve just commented on a facebook post that starts: “The “Greenest Government Ever” shackles Councillors, requiring that they approve planning applications for fracking ‘in the interest of the national economy’. This appalling edict places residents close to fracking operations at risk in the interest of fat-cat profits for the few. The government should wake-up to the methane and chemicals that fracking introduces to the water supply.” and added “…not to mention the CO2 it puts into the air. I will NEVER be voting to support fracking. We all need to use less energy and governments need to be investing more in renewables, not taking cheap options that will further wreck the planet.”

I have a large solar PV installation on my roof and, since it was installed, have been buying less that half the electricity I used to buy. At home we try to use as little energy as possible and my partner and I both cycle whenever and wherever we can.

I hope that makes my position clear! If you hear anything about local fracking before I do please do let me know and I will object as rigorously as possible.”

There is also a response from Oxfordshire County Council which is somewhat reassuring although it’s concerning that there might be some parts of Oxfordshire that contain shale gas.

“The British Geological Survey has identified parts of Oxfordshire as having geology that potentially may contain shale gas. Oil and gas exploration and production (including shale gas) are subject to licensing by the Government. There are currently no licences covering Oxfordshire. The Government is planning to launch a new round of onshore licensing in 2014 (14th licence round) and we understand that parts of Oxfordshire may be included.

Oil and gas exploration and production (including shale gas) also require planning permission. The County Council as mineral planning authority is responsible for determining planning applications for oil and gas exploration and production. There are no current applications for oil or gas exploration or production in Oxfordshire and we are not aware of any forthcoming proposals. Any planning application for fracking or any other form of oil or gas exploration or production would be considered by the County Council against relevant national and local planning policy. National planning policy for oil and gas is contained in the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework, March 2012. In addition, the Government recently published ‘Planning practice guidance for onshore oil and gas’, July 2013, which covers shale gas and fracking. This includes guidance on how mineral planning authorities should consider any environmental impacts of planning applications for oil and gas exploration and production.”

I will be keeping a close eye on developments on this!

Filipino Community of Oxfordshire 10th annual sports festival

Filipino-sportsThis 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.