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.

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 problem with a taxi rank location in the new Westgate Development?


I had a meeting with a council officer today to discuss concerns about a proposed taxi rank as part of the new Westgate Development that looks to me like it will be incredibly close to residential accommodation on Pike Terrace and Faulkner Street in my ward.  My concern is that in the small hours it will attract a lot of noise and antisocial behaviour from people leaving clubs and bars and that this will disturb a lot of residents in the area.

There is a very good consultation site about the west gate development and I recommend you have a look and give any feedback you want to give via that.

See and follow the navigation in the top right.

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!

Topping out the Weston Library

weston1I attended the topping-out ceremony at the Weston Library today, which will emerge from the shell of the refurbished New Bodleian to form a wonderful special collections Library late in 2014. I was invited as ward councillor and was I think the only member of the City Council there. There was an excellent speech by the Vice Chancellor or Oxford University, Professor Andrew Hamilton and he and Dr Sarah Thomas, Bodley’s Librarian unveiled the commemoration stone to mark the event.

weston2Hamilton spoke about how important it is to keep Universities like Oxford moving forward and developing and he said how important the philanthropy of donors is to such progress. He thanked the City Council, via me, for all it support and work with the University in our City, which I think was pretty gracious given how the whole project was slowed down by the City’s refusal to allow a book depository to be built in Osney, thus necessitating its construction in Swindon. 7 million books were moved there from the New Bodleian before the refurbishment to form the Weston Library could start!

I hugely look forward to seeing the finished product, and hopefully the regeneration of the East end of Broad Street including sorting out the awful traffic lights there that don’t even have a pedestrian phase!

The City Council wants your views on Oxpens

Oxford City Council is launching a public consultation on a planning document that will help shape the future of Oxpens.

The Oxpens site, between Oxford Railway Station, the Westgate Centre and the River Thames, represents one of the most significant development opportunities in the city centre and has the potential to make a valuable contribution to the life and economy of the local area and Oxford as a whole.

The document, known as the Oxpens Masterplan Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), will help to establish appropriate uses for the Oxpens site, which could include houses and flats, offices, research & development (R&D) space, local amenities, green open space, a hotel and a public square. The development is also expected to bring regeneration benefits for neighbouring residents, such as improved public transport and better vehicle, cycle and pedestrian links to the city and surrounding areas.

Oxford City Council has an adopted Core Strategy and West End Area Action Plan which outline the policies for development at the Oxpens site. The purpose of the SPD is to determine how these policies can be interpreted and implemented, and to set out the Council’s aspirations for the site, such as the preferred mix of housing, employment uses, open space and community facilities.

Could you take a few minutes to complete the survey about this, which is open from Monday 17 June until Monday 29 July 2013?  I’ve turned off comments on this post as they really need to be put in the survey.  Thanks!


Another shop loss on George Street – but good news on bins!

jessopsToday I spotted a planning application for a change of use of basement and ground floor from a retail unit (Use class A1) to a restaurant (Use class A3) at 63 George Street.  That’s the now-closed Jessops shop.  I was worried about the loss of another retail unit and the addition of yet another food outlet/bar (that’s what A3 is) so asked the planning officer about it.  He explained that the council has to assess any against its own retail policies in the Local Plan depending on the number of retail units left within the street and how this affects these policy thresholds.

A couple of days later the planning officer came back to me and explained that  he had reviewed the proportion of non-A1 (retail) uses within the secondary shopping frontage of the city centre (within which the site is located – in line with policy RC5 of the Local Plan). The proportion of A1 uses at ground floor level taking account of the change of proposed would equate to 51% (as based on January 2013 surveys by the Council). The policy minimum threshold for retail units is set at 50%. Consequently the proposal would not be contrary to the Council’s town centre/retail policies.

In English that means the retail units proportions policy does not give planning ground to refuse the application and so it would probably be granted.  I have to accept that really.  The only other thing I would like to see is a condition about is where the proposed A3 user will store waste.  There is a growing problem of large industrial waste bins being left out all over the city centre’s pavements and I really don’t want this unit to be another that does that.  I’ve asked it if can be conditioned that all waste must be stored onsite unless it is out for collection, say within the next two hours.  There are currently too many A3 users that area leaving pavements looking awful all week and I really don’t want that to get worse – All Bar One and the bins all over Alfred Street is a an example of this poor practice as are some of the A3 units on Gloucester Green.

To my delight, the planning officer said it would be entirely possible to write such a condition into the permission  requiring any future A3 user to store waste/bins on the premises at all times except immediately before and after waste collection. He said he would look at ways of making the condition as precise as possible (as required by Government guidance on conditions) so that it is enforceable if necessary and even went as far as to say he had circulated my concerns to all officers within the development control team for them to bear in mind when assessing such applications.  I am extremely impressed!


Central South and West Area Forum: Community-led planning

This meeting was held at St. Barnabas School in Jericho as we rotate around the area.

The main focus of the meeting was a discussion on community-led planning, both in terms of community work and planning in the development control sense.

The Head of City Planning attended and gave a useful overview of the Localism Bill and its provisions for Neighbourhood Plans.  We were referred to a short overview document (PDF) about Neighbourhood Plans too.

A good discussion ensued and I think some of the salient points are:

1. The localism bill seems to be more aimed at rural communities to allow them to plan for and authorise more development so it’s not clear how useful it would be in a crowded urban area like Oxford.

2.  Councillors are very tightly bound by planning law and when we are determining applications it does feel more like we are serving those laws than serving the desires of our electorates.  If we refuse things when there is no planning reason we are likely to get the decision overturned by an unelected planning inspector and may get costs awarded against us as a local authority.  That has to be paid out of Oxford taxpayers’ money so serves nobody.

I shall keep a close eye on how the Localism Bill develops.

Although the meeting was in Jericho it was a shame very few people from Jericho attended.  I do also question how sensible it is having a meeting in a cold primary school hall, where the chairs are more suitable for 5-11 year olds than adults!

Partnerships Training

This session was set up for councillors by two officers from Strategic Policy and Partnerships.

I found it useful to have an overview of how the City Council works in partnership with other bodies both at the City and the County level and there was some useful information about changes to partnerships since the change of government in May 2010.  In particular we noted:

•Scrapping of the Local Area Agreement
•Scrapping of the National Indicators
•Removal of statutory duty to develop a Sustainable Community Strategy (and therefore the need for Local Strategic Partnerships)
•Scrapping of regional bodies (SEEDA, GOSE)
•Introduction of Local Enterprise Partnerships
•Changes to the Health and Well Being Board linked to the NHS reforms

The Oxford Strategic Partnership has some new priorities, structure and subgroups also:

Partnerships DiagramYou can click the image to get an even bigger version.

I had no idea there were so many bodies involved in the Oxford Strategic Partnership.  They include:  Oxford City Council; Oxfordshire County Council; NHS Oxfordshire; Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action; Oxford University; Oxford Brookes University; Oxford and Cherwell Valley College; Thames Valley Police; Oxford Inspires; Critchleys; and Oxford Preservation Trust.

The one suggestion I made was that meetings of all the partnerships, which are public and published should be added to the Council’s meetings newsfeed to get the importance of partnership working higher up on the agenda.