Last week Freedom of Information requests, as reported in the Oxford Mail and The Sunday Times, have revealed that Oxfordshire County Council deliberately didn’t release traffic impact data in relation to their plans to install bus gates in Oxford as they were concerned this could impact the consultation results.
This information is deeply concerning and highlights what many of us suspected, that the council were moving ahead at speed with the bus gate plans in order to get electric bus funding from government, despite there being serious opposition to the plans in the first place.
Before the bus gate consultation had even ended the Labour cabinet member for Transport at the county council, Duncan Enright, told The Times, “It’s going to happen, definitely.” His comments meant he wasn’t allowed to vote on the plans as this was seen as him predetermining a decision ahead of the cabinet meeting.
As the LibDem, Labour, Green coalition running county hall come to the halfway point in their term ahead of the County Council elections in May 2025 we should remember this isn’t the first consultation result ignored by them.
In Witney the High Street was closed during the covid pandemic to allow for better social distancing measures to be put in place. The coalition used this opportunity to keep the measures permanent despite 36 out of 37 High Street businesses not supporting the closure. The consultation also showed that over 1000 people responded with 50% objecting, 11% had concerns and 39% supported the closure.
It was the same with the various rubber stamped 20MPH consultations taking place across Oxfordshire as part of the councils plans to spend £8million on changing road signs to 20MPH. In Bampton for example 52% objected, 7% had concerns, and 40% supported the speed limit change. The decision by the Lib Dem cabinet member for highways was to approve the changes and in doing so he completely dismissed any objections or concerns raised by residents.
The county council and the coalition are consistently hiding behind the need to constantly engage in a hope they’re seen to be caring when in reality the decisions have been made and they will simply push ahead with their own agenda.
That said, when the consultation doesn’t go their way, they will then simply climb back onto the fence and look for ways to do further consultation and avoid making a decision. This was the case for the Oxford United stadium proposal where 80% of respondents supported the new stadium plans. Yet here we are nearly two years down the line and the engagement process is still taking place with the council only recently agreeing to enter negotiations due to political and fan pressure to move the plans on.
Democracy matters. Voting matters. Your opinion matters. We cannot allow any political party to ignore the views of the residents who not only pay allowances for these decision makers but elect them too. We also cannot allow the coalition to turn Witney into Oxford by adding more and more motorist hammering measures and filling our town with ANPR cameras.
The local council elections in May are the perfect opportunity to start bringing common sense back to our local councils and make them focus again on delivering the services we pay for and stop instead focusing on their pet projects. This is what I promise you will get with your local Conservative team.
Cllr Liam Walker - Witney Gazette District Dossier - Wednesday 8th March 2023.