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.

Oxford University Student Hustings

coveredWell we’re in election time again!  I had the pleasure of attending the OUSU-organised student hustings last night at Magdalen College where I got to speak for LibDems on student and other City issues.  Here’s what I said:

Hello and thanks for coming to this City Council election hustings tonight. I am Councillor Tony Brett and I’m speaking for all LibDem candidates standing for election to the City Council in the student wards. I’ve been in Oxford over 20 years, since coming as a fresher undergrad, and have served as a councillor for nine years. I’m Oxford’s Deputy Lord Mayor this year.

Let’s get the LibDem thing done first – yes, I am proud to be a LibDem and am proud of Lib Dem policy. No, I am not proud of some things the coalition has done but yes I am proud of the many things LibDems have achieved in government, despite having less than 10% of commons seats and 15% of government seats. No income tax for those earning less than £10k, ending detention of asylum-seeking children, delivering £2.5bn of pupil premium, and protecting freedom of speech are just some of those achievements. I should say also that Oxford LibDems are not in coalition with Tories. There are no Tories on Oxford City Council. It is run by Labour with a LibDem opposition.

So what have we LibDems done and what do we care most about in Oxford? Who has or will live out in a shared house? While we support the council’s attempts to raise standards with the licensing scheme we totally oppose its cap on the numbers of shared houses and its financial penalties on Colleges/University building purpose-built student accommodation. Both these things just make your rents higher and I believe damage the City for everyone. We believe students, as residents just as much as anyone else, have every right to equal housing access as fellow human beings who are a valued and essential part of Oxford’s life and economy.

On homelessness, an issue I know many of you care deeply about, I believe Labour missed a huge opportunity by rejecting a LibDem City Council budget amendment recently to give its support more money following the Tory County Council’s swingeing cuts to this vital social care. I am proud that two of our LibDem candidates, Jean and Conor, nominated the Chair of Oxford Homeless pathways for a Lord Mayor’s Certificate of Honour – which she indeed got! I also volunteer as a Street Pastor – supporting the homelessness and others out on the street in the small hours.

The Covered Market is a jewel in Oxford’s crown and I’ve been appalled at how The Council has tried to bleed it dry with incredibly high rent rises and has reneged on its promise to set the rent an independent arbitrator recommended. It has totally neglected maintenance there too. We LibDems think the covered Market is much more important than that and support it fully.

Who cycles in this room? LibDems have a good track record of pushing hard for safer cycling in Oxford – we want more cycle safety boxes and much better road surfaces and cycle lanes for cyclists. We campaign tirelessly to the Council for improved cycle safety and have had some success.

In full council meetings I have proposed and had cross-party support for motions both on preserving Oxford’s pubs and on human rights for LGBT Russians in our Twin Town of Perm. I was a principal organiser of the first Oxford Pride back in 2003 and I chair of the University’s LGBT Advisory Group, encompassing both staff and students.

Are any of you here student volunteers? We are impressed to see how much support Oxford students give our City, particularly working with lonely, and often elderly, people living right in the City Centre. LibDems fully support that too.

This week saw good news that Oxford University it taking the Living Wage further so everyone working for the University, whether as contractors or staff, will be paid a living wage. This is great news and testament to work the whole City Council, enthusiastically supported by the Lib Dems, in pushing for this.

I hope you’ll agree we’re good for Oxford and give a LibDem your vote in the City Council elections in just over three weeks’ time!

There were some good questions too, about action against violence for women, detention of LGBT asylum seekers, identifying as a feminist, and the immigration bill.

I am pleased to say that I will fully support anything that can be done to help end violence to women and this includes providing more services (like rape crisis and domestic abuse coordinators); better sex and relationship education in schools; more safety initiatives in the community; and more strategic planning by partnership working of bodies like Thames Valley Police and the Oxford Safer Communities Partnership.  I pledge City LibDem support for them all.

On detention of LGBTQ asylum seekers, and indeed detention of any asylum seeker, I think my views are clear that human rights really are being abused by doing that and that asylum seekers come to the UK because they are running for their lives, they are NOT spongers or lazy!  It is just not acceptable to send an LGBTQ person back to a country where their liberty or even the life would be at risk because of the sexuality or gender identity.

I think all candidates agreed that we were feminists and I made a slightly clumsy point say all prostitutes are victims and should not be called girls, as they are vulnerable women (and men).  I was appropriately corrected by Annie Teriba (OUSU Access officer) by being reminded that some women, and men, take a positive choice to work in the sex trade and that if they do then they should be empowered to do that and not criminalised.  The victims I was talking about are those that are enslaved, perhaps by drug dealers, who are being used as a commodity to make money rather than working of their own free will.  Annie and I had a good chat about this afterwards and I was happy to be corrected.

On immigration, again, I see diverse groups of people and people coming to work in the UK as a really good thing.  It boost our economy and gives much better world-vision and harmony to our country.  I abhor the sense that some people are more valid or welcome than others just because of their nationality – that’s absolutely wrong!  I noted that LibDems are the only party that have pinned our flag clearly to the mast on EU membership too.  Labour and the Tories are still dithering and running scared of UKIP.



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!


Launch of the Old Museum at the Town Hall

image003I attended this opening as I wanted to see the new space this project has made and to hear about the project.  I was impressed at how much material the museum has and see it as a really useful orientation point for newcomers to Oxford City and to tourists alike.

The launch celebrated the development of The Old Museum – a unique heritage space dedicated to high quality cultural events and fundraising within the Museum of Oxford. This space will play a key role in the long term capital development project to expand the Museum of Oxford and its community engagement programmes. The City Council has plans for The Old Museum space and at the launch visitors were enjoying live performances from Dancin’ Oxford and Oxford Contemporary Music.

museumI think the space, pictured, will be a very useful and welcome addition to the City Centre’s meeting spaces available for use.

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

Opening Oxford’s Christmas Market

christmas marketI was  pleased to be able to open the Oxford Christmas Market today at its new location on Broad Street after a long campaign to get it allowed to be there.  It consists of about 40 stalls with all sorts of exciting food and Christmas gifts.  From what I can see it all looks to be really high quality and as far as I can see there is no amplified speech or music so it should happily co-exist with local colleges, businesses and residents.

Christmas Markets are a wonderful tradition and while this one is not new to Oxford, it is new to Broad Street and I wish it a really successful and joyous time here.  It’s great to have it so near to the Covered Market, another jewel in Oxford’s crown, and I sincerely hope both markets will be of mutual benefit to each other at this time of Christmas shopping both for presents and provisions.

I’m very grateful to everyone who has been involved in making this event happen – all the council officers, the Broad Street Stakeholder Group who have been so helpful and constructive in the planning of this event and particularly to Nicole Rahimi, the person whose inspiration and vision has made all this possible. I also want to thank surrounding colleges, residents and businesses for being so tolerant of this event right on their doorsteps. I do hope it will be a success from now until 22 December and that everyone will be able to go about their day to day business without being disturbed – this particularly applies to all the sixth formers up in Oxford for University interviews at this time!

parentsI’m grateful also to all the traders who have taken up stalls in this market and to those who have helped build such a lovely set up. I do hope many people from Oxford and surrounding area will come along and enjoy the magical atmosphere. Local choirs and bands will perform Christmas carols throughout the coming 10 days, adding to the festive feel!

It was really good to have my parents up at the event too.  Here we are eating churros and chocolate!  Photos are courtesy of Dad.

The utter hypocrisy!

temple cowleyI 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.

Full Council: Labour denying any errors with Covered Market

Jim presenting his motion

I’m going to do two blog posts about today’s full council meeting as there were two important issues I want to mention. The first is a motion from Cllr Jim Campbell, and Cllr Elise Benjamin about the findings of the Covered Market Scrutiny Review. The motion was fully supported by Cllr Mary Clarkson, a member of the Labour administration of the Council.  Jim, Elise and Mary have all spent many hours working on a big review of the Covered Market, working with The Retail Group who have produced an excellent and comprehensive report.
Jim’s motion read:


noting that the latest edition of Your Oxford has a full page  advertising “Oxford’s Amazing Christmas Markets”, which highlights new arrangements at Gloucester Green but makes no mention whatsoever of the Covered Market;

noting further no provision has been made during the Three Day Winter Light Festival to include the Covered Market in its programme;

regretting the lack of trust that has developed between the Council, as  Landlord, and the Traders, as tenants;  

welcoming the excellent report of the Retail Group, its analysis of the reasons behind the current under-performance of the Covered Market, and its proposals for how it can once again be a key part of Oxford’s Retail Offer;

hoping that the residents of Oxford will respond, in numbers and in depth, to the four week public consultation on the report;

supporting the Council’s already stated intention to appoint an interim Market Manager,

therefore calls on The City Executive Board:

• to recognise that, in recent years, there has been a lack of effective  management by the Council and that this has been a significant contributory factor to the poor performance of the market;

• to consider thoroughly the findings of the Public Consultation on the future of the market;

• to ensure that the Covered Market has a key role in future City Centre events;

• to respond positively to the short term proposals put forward by the Retail Group;

• to examine in detail the long term proposals made by the Retail Group, and to draw up, by November 2014, a full report of how it will respond to these proposals.”

I was highly dismayed to see and hear Bob Price, the Labour Leader of the Council propose what can only be called a wrecking amendment to the motion that completely removes any suggestion that the council might have done anything wrong or been at all remiss in how it manages the market  Colin Cook, Executive councillor with responsibility for the Covered Market also entirely supported the amendment despite objection to it from fellow Labour Councillor Mary Clarkson who has a huge amount of experience of the Covered Market and has spent many hours as part of the scrutiny review of it.  Colin Cook said he must be a Market Supporter and must be right because he had recently bought some cheese there.  I was quite disgusted that the whole of the rest of the Labour Group, even my Carfax ward colleague Cllr Canning, supported the Labour amendment that essentially takes all the blame off Labour and puts it all on the traders.  This is absolutely not the way the political group leading a local authority should behave.  I am quite ashamed.  This is not the first time I have commented about Labour neglect and arrogance towards the Jewel in Oxford’s Crown that is the Covered Market either.

See my previous posts about Labour Contempt (Oct 12) and Neglect (Sep 11) of the Covered Market.

You can see the briefing note for the meeting, that includes the motions at http://mycouncil.oxford.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=3120