Kidlington Parish Council • Monthly Reports 2020

by David Robey


This document contains the Chair's Reports for Kidlington Parish Council for the months of: December, November, October, September, August, July 2020.


REPORT

December 2020


F irst, some thoughts prompted by the end of our second lockdown and an extraordinary and very difficult year. There has been great hardship and distress for many, and sadly more hardship and distress will come as the economic impact of Covid makes itself increasingly felt. Thanks to the remarkable volunteer organizations in our area, together with the services provided by the District and County Councils, there have been emergency support systems available to all, and we have done our best to publicize them. We can only hope that none of our residents have fallen through this net.

Council meetings have adapted smoothly to taking place on line, and even after the emergency some will no doubt continue in this form. But they inevitably lack the stimulus, support and give-and-take of physical presence. This has been particularly difficult for our office staff, who have valiantly ensured that all of our statutory services have continued. Our grounds staff have also ensured that our open spaces and facilities are maintained to the usual standard. The council is deeply grateful to all staff in both categories for their unfailing hard work and good will throughout this difficult time.

Covid meant that we had to cancel not only the annual Gala Day and the Fireworks Display, but also the Christmas lights Switch-On event. Nevertheless the lights are up, and there are handsome trees at the top of the High Street, Exeter Hall and the Broadway. We could not put the usual tree in the Piazza off the High Street, because a market stall has been moved there to ensure social distancing.

Covid did not prevent our contractors from completing work on the Bicester Road cemetery, though some small issues will wait for the Spring. This was the main outcome of a process that began shortly after the present Council was elected last year, well before the waterlogging problems of the winter, and has proceeded without delay thereafter. A substantial new network of drains and paths has been installed, far more extensive than anything carried out since the cemetery was first opened. This will reduce significantly the problems of waterlogging we experienced at times in the past, although it may not remove them completely in extreme weather. But the new paths will make access to graves easier whatever the condition of the ground. We are now proceeding with additional landscaping of the site.

Finally, the Council decided at its last meeting to oppose Network Rail's planned closure of the Sandy Lane level crossing. The arguments for closure mainly concern the substantial growth planned in rail traffic along the line, and the fact that new housing developments in Yarnton and Begbroke will significantly increase road traffic along the lane. But we decided that on balance these arguments should not outweigh the likely loss of business for Kidlington centre traders, not to mention the inconvenience for Kidlington residents driving to Yarnton. This is simply one issue that illustrates the urgent need for greater clarity about the impact of planned housing developments in Kidlington and surroundings as a whole.
REPORT

November 2020


A s we enter the second lockdown, the Council's office staff are back to working almost entirely from home, tennis courts and the outdoor gym have been closed, and Exeter Hall bookings limited to essential work meetings. Uncertainty about the new regulations also led us, regretfully, to cancel the usual Remembrance Sunday service and parade. Instead we held a virtual event on the preceding Friday, in which the names of Kidlington and Hampton Poyle residents who died in the last century's wars were read out, the bugle played, two minutes' silence observed, and wreaths laid by representatives of local organizations. The whole event was recorded on video, and published on the Council website here on Remembrance Sunday morning: do please take a look. We hope people will see it as an appropriate and moving commemoration, in the present circumstances, of those who sacrificed their lives for their country.

How the new lockdown will affect Kidlington residents remains to be seen, but we can be sure that for many it will cause very real difficulties. The two local foodbanks continue with their invaluable work, the Cherwell Community Larder operating from Exeter Hall, and the North Oxfordshire Foodbank from the Baptist Church. Kidlington and Surrounding Areas (KASA) Coronavirus Community Help still has its teams of volunteers available to provide support for those who cannot leave their homes for whatever reason. We are updating the details about the support available during the emergency, and about services provided by local businesses and other organizations, on our webpage here.

It is a relief to be able to report two items of good news. The High Street bollard has been working most of the time. Looking forward to next year, the County Council have applied to the Department of Transport to provide civil parking enforcement in Cherwell and other districts from this time in 2021. This is something we have long been pressing for. It means that parking regulations will be enforced by traffic wardens rather than by the police, who no doubt understandably have tended to have other priorities.

Three major issues for the future remain in the realm of uncertainty. While planning for the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway seems to have paused, the massive long-term development scheme known as the Oxford-Cambridge Arc still remains on the table, with the consequent prospect of a huge increase in the Oxfordshire population. Within Oxfordshire discussions on local government reorganization, and the possible integration of the five district councils into a single council for the county, have also paused. Whether or not this is desirable is a matter for debate, but there will be a real advantage if it brings with it a greater devolution of powers, something at present sadly lacking in the British government system. Finally, we are watching with some concern the progress of the government's White Paper Planning for the Future, which looks like removing much of the protection of essential interests that the present system provides.


REPORT

October 2020


S ince my last report, where I referred to the formal adoption of Cherwell's Partial Review of its Local Plan, the Council has agreed to support the application of the Cherwell Development Watch Alliance for a legal challenge to the plan based on two issues: that the calculation of Oxford's housing needs (4400 houses) is unsound, and should have been far lower; and that that proper provision was not made for a replacement of the North Oxford Golf Course in order to build houses on it. There are two stages to the process: first, obtaining permission to proceed to judicial review; second, if permission is given, the judicial review itself. At present we have agreed to support the first stage, and depending on the outcome, we will decide whether to support the second stage. Permission could be given to proceed on one issue, or both, or neither.

If the application is unsuccessful, what will Kidlington look like in ten years' time, when the proposed new housing has been completed? The Green Belt gap between us and Oxford will have been reduced to a narrow strip between the A34 and the railway line, after 1360 new houses have been built South of the railway. There will be 120 new houses at the South-West end of the village, by Stratfield Brake, and 430 around the Bicester Road cemetery. The size of Yarnton and Begbroke will be vastly increased, with 2490 new houses in the two villages, though we will be separated from the developments by a green gap between the railway line and the canal. All of this will be of limited value to Kidlington residents, since the affordable housing will be reserved for Oxford's needs

All of this makes the work that the Council is currently doing on environmental issues doubly important: not just as a response to global warming, but also to keep Kidlington as far as possible a green and pleasant place despite all the surrounding housing development. At the end of last year, along with many other councils, we declared a Climate Change Emergency, which means, among other things, that we are committed to try and make Council activities net-zero-carbon by 2030, and work with other partners to the same end. We have a Climate Emergency Working Party, which will involve local residents outside the Council, to develop and exchange new ideas for action. We are also developing new policies and initiatives on habitat restoration, rewilding, trees, cycling and walking, as well as an ambitious long-term scheme for a circular linear park or Green Ring around the village, a series of green spaces linked together by cycling and walking routes. We are looking at the provision of electrical charging points for cars around the village, and are about to instal solar lighting at the Orchard Recreational Ground, having already done so at Exeter Close and Ron Groves Recreation Ground.

All of this complements the work we are doing with Cherwell Council's K5 Better Together scheme to promote health and well-being in Kidlington and the surrounding parishes.


REPORT

September 2020


T hings have calmed down at the Council since the successful but expensive removal of the travellers on Lyne Road Green last month. The offices remain closed to the public, although most of our staff are back at Exeter Hall or have continued to work around the Parish throughout the pandemic. The recent updates to Covid regulations are somewhat confusing, but do allow us to take bookings of more than six people in Exeter Hall and the Pavilion providing we can guarantee social distancing and other measures to keep people safe. While these premises are considered Covid secure, sadly we are not yet able to accommodate important social events, particularly those for older people such as the Lunch Club. Other Oxfordshire councils are following the same rules.

A significant proportion of the Council's income comes from charges for the hire of facilities, and this has been much reduced as a result of Covid, though the loss has been partly offset by concurrent savings. This will remain a serious concern in the short-to-medium term, and will lead to some difficult choices as we begin the process of setting budgets for next year.

All Council meetings continue to be held on-line, via Zoom, and the main ones remain open to the public as usual: see the Council webpage (linked at the foot of this page) for details about meetings and instructions about how to attend.

The Cherwell District Council Local Plan has now been approved by the Inspector and formally adopted, though there might still be the possibility of a judicial review. As I have said before, of the 4400 houses allocated to this part of the District to meet Oxford's housing need, only a few will be built in Kidlington proper: 120 at Stratfield Farm, by the Sainsbury's roundabout. However, 430 will be built in Gosford around the Bicester Road cemetery, and the remainder in Begbroke and Yarnton and south of the A34 on either side of the main road into Oxford. This will not only remove most of the Green Belt gap between us and Oxford, but will also create real pressure on transport infrastructure and much else. One specific consequence is likely to be the blocking of vehicle access to Sandy Lane in Yarnton, with Network Rail set to close the two Yarnton level crossings. This will have an impact on the use of Kidlington's shops by Yarnton and Begbroke residents, as well as making access to the Yarnton Garden Centre more difficult for us. On the other hand, if the road is not closed, the added traffic resulting from the new housing developments is likely to make it unsustainable in its present form.

Finally, we have reached the last stage of the programme of work on the Bicester Road cemetery which began shortly after the present Council was elected last year, and well before the waterlogging problems that occurred last winter. We have received planning permission for an extensive new network of drains and paths, we have chosen a contractor, and we expect work to begin by the end of the month and finish by December.


REPORT

August & July 2020


I was thinking that, given the time of year, there wasn't much to report on this occasion. That all changed with the travellers' invasion of the Lyne Road green.

For those that don't know it, the green is a large and pleasant open space towards the top of the village between Lyne Road and the railway line. On Friday 31 July it was reported that a small number of travellers' caravans had set up camp there, and in the next days the number increased to 13 or more. The land belongs to the Parish Council, but negotiation with travellers is in the first place the responsibility of the County Council, who have a travellers officer. He visited the site on the Monday, and was told that the caravans were there for a wedding and would leave the next day. He visited the next day and was told that the wedding celebrations were continuing and they would leave on Wednesday. On Wednesday they were still there and said they were not leaving.

There are three ways to evict trespassers of this kind. The County Council can apply for a court order, but the process is slow, probably more so during the Covid emergency. The police can evict forcibly, but will only do so if there is hard prosecutable evidence of criminality or significant harm. In this case they declined to act, perhaps partly as a matter of prioritization, partly because they knew that the Council was willing to act. This left us with the third option of calling in bailiffs to evict, which is what we did.

The bailiffs served notice of eviction on Wednesday afternoon, with a deadline for departure of 1 pm the next day. When that time came there was still no sign of departure, so the bailiffs went in and started the eviction process. By 6 pm the site had been cleared, to the credit of the bailiffs in a peaceful manner. The police were also present to prevent disturbances. We left security guards in place overnight, and from first thing on Friday we were placing concrete blocks along the roadside edge of the green as a temporary measure to prevent access. This will give us time to consider long-term measures of a less unsightly kind, such as the creation of an earth ridge, perhaps with a ditch alongside.

All this has cost the Council several thousand pounds of council-tax payers' money, but I hope residents will agree that it is money well spent. I also hope they will feel that we acted as fast as we reasonably could. It is best to try negotiation to begin with in such cases, but as soon as it was clear that negotiation would not work we resorted to other means.

The invasion caused a great deal of anxiety, distress and nuisance to residents, and I want to thank them for their forbearance in putting up with it in such a civil manner. I also want to thank the County Council travellers officer for his advice and support, and the police for theirs. Cherwell District Council sent in a cleansing team during the occupation, and they were apparently subjected to some abuse. They then cleansed the site thoroughly on Friday morning. Thanks go to them, and then particularly to Parish Councillors and staff for their help, and above all our Facilities Manger Graham Kearney and his team who remained well ahead of the game throughout.

On other matters, Exeter Hall remains closed to the public at the time of writing, apart from a few bookings. Councillors and office staff have continued to work mainly at home since the lockdown, and we shall continue with our calendar of on-line Council and committee meetings. Playgrounds, tennis courts and cemeteries are all open. Tenders for the drainage work at the Bicester Road cemetery are now in, and we aim to start work as soon as we can once we have received planning permission.

The three main volunteer organizations active in the Village are still doing sterling work to meet Covid-related needs: Kidlington and Surrounding Areas Community Hub (KASA), the North Oxfordshire Food Bank and the Cherwell Community Larder, as well as several other smaller initiatives, all count among the heroes and heroines of the present emergency.


David Robey is Chairman of Kidlington Parish Council (KPC).
Visit the KPC website: here.