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.

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.

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.

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.



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!

World Literacy Summit

I had the great pleasure of being part of the opening ceremony of the World Literacy Summit 2014 today. The ceremony was at the Sheldonian Theatre with a lunch afterwards in the famous Divinity School of the Bodleian Library.  Speakers included Dr Anthony Cree, the Chairman of the Summit;  Mr Nigel Portwood, the CEO of Oxford Unviersity Press; Professor Sally Mapstone, the Pro-vice chancellor for Education of Oxford University; Mr David Perrin, the CEO of the Summit, Linda Bakkum, a Youth Ambassador and Ms Haifa Fahoum Al Kaylani, the Founder-Chairman of the Arab International Women’s Forum.  We also had a recorded message from HRH Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, the patron of the event and a strong advocate of literacy.

world literacy

The theme of the summit was Literacies: the Power to Change. The aims were impressive:

  • Exploring the key issues impacting literacy around the world;
  • Analysing the latest literacy delivery methods and teaching approaches;
  • Increasing awareness of the global literacy crisis;
  • Creating opportunities for each other to collaborate in supporting literacy;
  • Revisiting and updating the Oxford Declaration.

775 million people worldwide are illiterate so it is quite some achievement to bring together more than 70 literacy experts, politicians, civil servants, teachers, business leaders and charities to take some positive action about this.  These events are a great opportunity to hear inspiring insights from world leaders in the field and to enjoy some high-powered debating that will help to shape policy into the future.

Although the conference is global, I am extremely pleased to know that it also shows great local commitment.  Many are engaged in the vital work of supporting literacy in Oxford itself and it’s great that the summit involves Oxford students at University level and below.  It’s good to know there is an ongoing programme of advocacy after the summit, that it sponsors.

Oxford has some of the best education in the world, but sadly it is also home to many children experiencing quite severe deprivation.  Many come to education with extremely low levels of literacy and a significant number do not have English their first language.  As a governor at Oxford Spires Academy I have first-hand knowledge of just how important literacy is to our young students as the gateway and enabler to successful learning. At Oxford Spires we are very proud to ensure that every teacher is a teacher of literacy so I was delighted to be able to take Debbie Clark, our literacy coordinator, along with me to see the life-changing work summits like this encourage.  I know Debbie caught up with some old friends and had some good conversations after the speeches.

I hope the rest of the Summit is a huge success – it certainly deserves to be, as literacy is so important to everyone as a vital enabler to future success.



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

Hidden Spire: How lucky are you?


I have the great privelege of attending the first night of the show at Crisis Skylight Oxford in partnership with Arts at the OFS tonight and I must say I really enjoyed it.  It was a moving performance with about half the cast being fmo Oxford’s homeless community.  There were some really thought provoking moments, some good acting and some good music.  Highly recommended.  Rather than take it from me, I take the liberty of adding an extract from a much better review by Helen Ward of Daily Information.

“Despite a running time of just over an hour, How Lucky Are You? is a surprisingly thought-provoking and ultimately positive exploration of the theme of change and upheaval. Drawing strongly on their own experiences, the homeless members of the company have spent last four months working with a professional creative team to create a unique piece of theatre – an experience director Liz McBain described as “inspiring”.  Another member of the company told Daily Info, that the piece reflects the way in which homeless people often come together to form intensely caring and supportive families.”

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.