Headington Headlines #343

Your weekly round-up of local news for 6 – 12 November.

Distressing news broke this week with Bill “Father of the Shark” Heine making public that he has acute myeloid leukemia. He has said his doctors have “given him 18 months” – and that was three months ago.

Bill Heine
Bill Heine

With the Neighbourhood Plan having originally been marginalised in the committee papers the East Area Planning Committee refused EF International’s planning application for Cotuit Hall. The decision may be still be called in for review – we’ll know by the end of Tuesday. Full story here.

The new Marston Medical Centre opened on Thursday. It is in Old Marston Road next to the Co-op.

Planning permission has been given for a portable building to be placed outside the JR’s A&E department. It will be staffed by GPs and used to assess and (presumably) treat arrivals who are judged not to need hospital admission. A form of triage-by-GP, it seems, designed to cut emergency waiting times.

There was Headington hospital heatpipe happiness on Friday with the official opening of the Energy Centre at the JR. They announced savings of £231k – that’s nearly a quarter of a million pounds – in the first full month’s operation.

The Kennett Road pothole may be a sinkhole.

A Marston community project “Walk on the Wild Side” is asking for your votes to get funding.

St Andrew’s School Christmas Craft Fair is on Sunday 3 December – details here.

Do you need a bike in Oxford? There are seven hire companies and a sharing scheme to choose from.

My favourite Headington-related tweet:

Active posts on the Headington & Marston e-democracy forum this week:

  • Please vote for Marston’s Walk on the Wildside charitable project!

Cotuit Hall and the Neighbourhood Plan

The latest planning application by the EF International language school [correction: EF International Academy UK Ltd. – see comment below] to redevelop their Cotuit Hall site on Pullen’s Lane went to the East Area Planning Committee (EAPC) last Wednesday (8 November). The city’s planning officers’ recommendation was to approve the application.

However, the full Committee papers barely mentioned the Headington Neighbourhood Plan (HNP) and it was not at all obvious that the Plan’s policies had been taken into account. After local councillors intervened a supplementary note was presented to the Committee on the day. This note examined all the relevant HNP policies and advised they were all complied with. Two local groups spoke against the application, which was subjected to a thorough examination, and EAPC turned the application down by a 4-2 [correction: 5-3 – see comment below] vote with one abstention.

The minutes of the meeting are now public on the Council website; I’ve also extracted the text and uploaded it here. The minutes record the reasons the Committee refused the application; there are several, including four HNP policies where the Committee went against the officers and concluded they were not complied with. These are:

  • GSP2 Provision of green space within developments
  • GSP4 Protection of the setting of the site
  • CIP1 Development to respect existing local character
  • CIP4 Protecting important assets

Full details of these policies are in the Neighbourhood Plan.

Ruth Wilkinson has reported that Councillors are being bombarded with emails from EF staff asking for the application to be called in to the Planning Review Committee (PRC).

It seems to me quite likely that it will be called in and the PRC will overturn the decision. They will grant permission because they don’t want to get into a costly appeal process. If it’s not called in I think we can assume EF will appeal anyway. Either way it will be a good indication of the City’s commitment to the NP, and if it comes to appeal, of the status of the NP in the Inspector’s eyes. I’ve read that Inspectors elsewhere have supported Neighbourhood Plans and rejected appeals which would overturn them.

However, compliance with these particular policies will always be a matter of judgement and there is a weakness in the planning system which is easy to exploit. Planning permission is often granted with conditions which the developer has to meet within a specified timescale. It is usually delegated to officers to decide if the condition has been met: the developer (or their consultants) prepares a document, submits it to the Council and it is nodded through with little scrutiny, however good or bad the document may be. I’ll stick my neck out and forecast this is what will happen here: the application will be called in; the PRC will grant permission with conditions which they can claim will satisfy the various policy requirements; there will be a lull; documents addressing some of the conditions will be prepared, submitted and approved with almost no scrutiny; for other conditions the developers will request and be granted a variation of conditions which lets them avoid compliance; the development will go ahead more-or-less as it now stands and no benefit will have been gained for the local community and environment.

To call in the application needs twelve councillors to request it by 5pm next Tuesday (14 November). So for now we wait and see.

On a more positive note the city’s planning paperwork is being changed to explicitly include the Headington Plan where relevant, with instructions that the Plan’s policies must be given full consideration and weight.

Oxford Bike Hire

Oxford now has four operators offering dockless bike hire in the city. These are in addition to the two docking-type systems which have been going for some time now, Oxonbikes and Brompton Hire, and a hybrid scheme run by Bainton Bikes/Donkey Republic.

The dockless concept is that you can pick up any available bike, ride it, and park it at the end of your journey. The operators just ask that you park somewhere legal, accessible, and non-obstructive. An app on your smartphone or other device shows where the available bikes are and takes care of the locking, unlocking and payment.

Some operators require a deposit. Some have a credit points system where you can earn or lose points for considerate or inconsiderate use, and where the charges are higher if you have too few points. Typical trip charges for the dockless bikes are 50p/30 minutes, though Ofo bikes are currently free to use.

The Donkey Republic/Bainton Bikes scheme is slightly different and aimed at longer use. They charge by the day; you collect your bike from one of several specified locations around the city (including Headington Shops and Oxford Brookes) and return it to the same place.

Longer rentals are also available, for example from Bainton Bikes, or try any of the bike shops in and around the city.

Lastly I should include Cycle.Land, an Oxford start-up someone described as “AirBnB for bikes”. It’s a platform where people can share their bike with other people for a fee. Of course it’s also a way for someone who has a bike – or a few bikes – to make a few pounds renting it or them out. Cycle.Land provide the mobile app, insurance and support, but like AirBnB it’s up to each owner and renter to make arrangements between themselves. I was surprised to see about 120 bikes listed in Oxford, including some tandems. Typical rental prices range from £1 to a few ££ a day.

Oxfordshire County and Oxford City have drawn up this Code of Conduct for dockless operators

Here is a summary of the various schemes in alphabetical order.

BROMPTON HIRE Folding bikes kept in lockers. Hire & return to rail station only – can be to a different station. Annual fee + prepay. Frequent and Leisure tariffs. 24-hr hire period.

DONKEY REPUBLIC Prepay. £12/day. Collect from designated collection point; return to same place (see map).

MOBIKES Drive shaft – no chain!  Dockless. Credit points system. One-off refundable deposit of £49 + prepay; 50p/30min or £1/30min if credit points are low.

OBIKES Dockless. Credit points system. No deposit. Prepay; 50p, £1 or £5/30min depending on credit points.

OFO Dockless. Some bikes have 3-speed gears. No deposit. Currently free to use; no date set for charging to start. Will be 50p/30min.

OXONBIKES Pedal & e-bikes available. Hire & return to docking stations around the city – see locations. Prepay. Either subscribe £26pa + 30min free then £1/hr or no subscription + £1/hr. E-bikes available at twice the rates.

PONY BIKES Dockless. No deposit; prepay 50p/30min or £19/month unlimited use. No points system.

Headington Headlines #342

Your weekly round-up of local news for 30 October – 5 November.

Police cordoned off part of Copse Lane in Marston last weekend after reports that a teenage girl had been assaulted.

EF International’s planning application to redevelop their site at Cotuit Hall (reported in HH312) goes to the east Area Planning Committee on Wednesday this week (8 November). The officers’ recommendation is to approve the application subject to conditions. One of the conditions is for a travel plan:

The plan shall detail how pupil access to the site is to be managed, including at start/end of terms, how vehicle movements to and from the site are to be minimised, the means for implementing the plan, method of monitoring and amending the plan on an annual basis. The results of the annual monitoring exercise shall be submitted to the local planning authority in writing and the travel plan amended accordingly in light of discussions with the local planning authority.

Last week I mentioned the missing cycle parking stands at Westgate. Here’s the story.

Since then work has started to install the missing racks.

Staying with the cycling theme, here’s our very own EF language schools in their latest sponsorship venture. This is a World Tour Team so expect to see them in all the big races.

The highest-ranked football team based in OX3, @OxCityFC, who are second bottom in the National League South, pulled off a great victory against League Two’s Colchester, 56 places above them, with a 1-0 away win in the first round of the FA Cup.

Following the official opening of the Margaret Road sports pavilion last week, here’s the Oxford Mail’s article and picture gallery about it.

My favourite Headington-related tweet:

Active posts on the Headington & Marston e-democracy forum this week:

  • Bright white lighting
  • Beech House

Westgate’s Missing Cycle Parking Spaces

The new Westgate shopping centre, the latest jewel in Oxford’s crown, opened to the public on Tuesday 24 October. There were Important People, razzamatazz, and crowds of citizens curious to explore this new quarter of the city. But beneath the glitz and glamour something was amiss. This is the story of The Missing Cycle Parking Spaces.

Why does it matter?

It matters because Oxford’s roads are choked with traffic. St Aldates and the High are often literally full of buses. Emergency vehicles have a hard time getting through. Air pollution is well over legal limits. The County and City Councils trumpet their policies of encouraging people to switch their journey habits from motor vehicles to public transport and cycles. Time and again we are told Oxford is a ‘cycle city’. This is true only in so far as determined people choose to get around by bike because it’s quicker, cheaper and healthier than other options; but they do this despite the grossly inadequate infrastructure and the clear objective dangers.

Time and time again the reality is that cyclists are marginalised and ignored. To provide safe attractive cycle routes means spending money on physical infrastructure, not just paint. But with the possible exception of the Access to Headington scheme, where we must wait and see the outcome, this hasn’t happened.

Planning conditions

In granting planning permission for the Westgate development Oxford City placed a condition that required Westgate to provide about 1000 extra cycle parking spaces. Never mind that this is about half the number that would be considered adequate in Holland, Denmark or Germany, and only two-thirds of those required under the council’s own planning policies; it’s a step in the right direction. Meanwhile over 100 spaces were removed from the city centre to make way for construction. Cycle city? Not. It just reinforces the perception that despite the fine words and policies, making ordinary everyday journeys by bike is seen by our planners and transport engineers as a marginal activity which can be slotted in as an afterthought. No surprise that on opening day the 1000 space car park in Westgate was fully operational.

What happened?

Fast forward to opening day. Westgate’s website boasts of the 1000 cycle parking spaces they have provided, and the ‘Cycle Hub’ – covered, secure bike parking with a workshop run by Oxford’s well-regarded Broken Spoke Cooperative. But wait – where are all these spaces? Where is the Hub? Mystified cyclists started to ask, and were airily waved away (I was a witness).  Here’s how it unfolded.

But it’s not true

The following day people started asking about the Cycle Hub.

On Thursday the County tried to claim credit, but they were behind the times.

The story had gone too public.

and Broken Spoke distanced itself from the Hub project

Cyclox audited what was actually in place. In summary:

Only 3% of the promised 1000 net extra cycle parking spaces have been installed at New Westgate.  There are no cycle parking spaces in convenient locations – none at all.  The developer has run rings around the planning authorities and has breached their planning conditions. It is the City Council’s obligation now to enforce provision of 972 extra cycle parking spaces.

Their full report is here, which also quotes the two planning conditions placed on the Westgate developers by the City’s planners.

On Friday the City installed some temporary bike parking, caught on camera when Green Cllr David Thomas was filming a piece for his facebook page.

Not surprisingly it was immediately full.

Temporary bike parking in St Ebbe's, 28 October
Temporary bike parking in St Ebbe’s, 28 October

Also on Friday Oxford’s Green Party started a petition

Westgate issued a statement:

By the weekend the story had been picked up nationally

and it was covered on BBC South Today (no longer on iPlayer)

My twitter followers were cynical about the outcome:

After the weekend the City Council responded to the Green’s petition:

30 OCT 2017 — The Westgate Shopping Centre redevelopment has not yet been fully completed – workers are still on site and there are some shops still to be completed and a lot of work around the edges of the new development.

Oxford City Council, as the city’s planning authority, insisted on bicycle parking being included in the Westgate Shopping Centre redevelopment and we are pleased that new bike racks for 1,000 bicycles will be installed as part of the development.

The provision of the bike racks for 1,000 bicycles is a requirement of the planning permission for the new Westgate Shopping Centre. The development was created followed extensive public consultation with stakeholders, including cycling groups in Oxford such as Cyclox. This consultation included the location and type of bike racks that would be installed.

Sadly, although 180 cycle spaces have been installed, the installation of the majority of the new bike racks has been delayed. Last week the Westgate Shopping Centre developer apologised for this delay, and again reassured the City Council and the public that it will install all the bike racks and meet the planning requirement. On Friday, the City Council installed 50 temporary bike racks in St Ebbes Street.

We are disappointed that the cycle parking was not fully installed prior to the shopping centre being opened, and are working with the developers to ensure that it is installed and operational as soon as possible.

A week after opening the ‘1000 spaces’ claim has disappeared from Westgate’s website; it now says:

If you come to Westgate by bike, you’ll be able to park conveniently around the centre using our bicycle spaces in the vicinity of Westgate. Indoor secure parking stands as well as outdoor parking at Greyfriars Place at the northern end of Old Greyfriars Street is also available.

and the link to ‘Cycle Hub information’ gets an Error 404 Unavailable.

What next?

It’s speculation of course, but here’s my scenario for how things will play out over the next six months or so. Westgate will install some new bike stands, perhaps a couple of hundred scattered around the block. They will then say that they can’t install any more because there’s not enough safe space, the pavements are too narrow, the buses might hit them on the tight bends, etc etc  – all concerns expressed over the past four years by, among others, Cyclox and Oxford Civic Society.  They will apply for a variation to the planning condition which releases them from the obligation to provide the remaining stands; the council will try to get it nodded through under delegated powers; the Greens and LibDems will blow the whistle and get it put to the West Area Planning Committee where Labour will close ranks and back Westgate

And Oxford’s cyclists will once again have been marginalised.

Headington Headlines #341

Your weekly round-up of local news for 23 – 29 October.

It seems like the whole week’s focus has been down the hill at Westgate, which opened on Tuesday. There’s a story about its lack of bike parking spaces but that’s for a separate article. Otherwise my Headington antenna only picked up two stories this week.

Although Heavenly Desserts is open, it will have a Grand Opening on Friday 3 November, according to the Oxford Mail.

The new pavilion at the Margaret Road sports field officially opened on Friday.

Active posts on the Headington & Marston e-democracy forum this week:

  • Bus stops from Oxford all different now
  • Opening of Quarry Pavilion on Friday (27 Oct 2017)

Headington Headlines #340

Your weekly round-up of local news for 16 – 22 October.

A “Gang of Four” youths stole a CCTV security camera from a house in North Place, next to Bury Knowle Park.

An overheating laptop in a drawer in a house in Quarry Hollow caused a fire on Monday when clothes in the drawer were set alight. Fire crews attended and dealt with the incident.

The Boundary Commission published its proposals for realigning Oxford’s constituencies. Oxford East would be renamed Oxford, and extended westwards to include the Botley Road, Jericho and Binsey. Oxford West and Abingdon would be renamed Abingdon and Oxford North. This interactive map shows the proposed new boundaries. You have until 11 December to comment (link on the same page as the map).

The water supply to Risinghurst, Sandhills and parts of Headington failed on Wednesday morning due to a burst main in Marston and a breakdown at a pumping station. Supply was back on around the middle of the day.

The official opening of the new pavilion in the Margaret Road sports ground is at 5pm on Friday 27 October. All local residents welcome.

My favourite Headington-related tweet:

Active posts on the Headington & Marston e-democracy forum this week:

  • Theft of CCTV Camera – Old Headington