Energy Project: 14 – 20 Feb 2016

The Heatpipe Liaison meeting, or to give it its official title the Headington Liaison Group Stakeholder Meeting, held its latest monthly session on Thursday 18 February. Pressure of time at the venue (All Saints’ Church House in New High Street) restricted it to an hour, which was no bad thing. By my count there were five members of the Headington twitterati there among the local residents. The Oxford Mail reporter OxMailSophieM was also there.

As anyone who follows this saga will know, the pipelaying through the residential streets is on hold. The problem at the heart of it all seems to be one of land ownership. It is possible that the County as Highway Authority does not own the actual land and subsoil beneath the roads. The County itself seems to believe it only controls the surface as far down as necessary to provide a highway.

It’s all rather complicated and I can’t be sure I’ve got everything that follows right, but I’ll do my best! If you know something I’ve got wrong or left out please let me know.

Obviously the lawyers for all parties are working on this: we were told that two ‘diametrically opposed’ opinions have been given. If the land doesn’t belong to the County, it probably belongs to the frontagers – the people whose land fronts onto the street. If that is the case their individual permission will be needed, with the question of payment for wayleaves following.

Meanwhile, the City Council is saying that Vital Energi’s planning application is still not valid as required notices haven’t been given. They also say they haven’t yet received a valid Construction Traffic Management Plan. The situation here seems to be that Vital have satisfied the County’s requirements but not yet the City’s. Consequently, the planning application is on hold and the consutation period still has no definite end date.

I suspect that whatever shape the traffic plan takes it won’t be what local residents, particularly Highfield, want. They want a full traffic plan covering not just construction traffic but mitigation and safety measures for all the traffic that works its way through the area between London Road and Old Road, cars, bikes, pedestrians, commercial vehicles and all.

The other development last week was the meeting of the County Council’s Performance Scrutiny Committee, also on Thursday, to discuss their handling of the project. The minutes aren’t published yet, but from the live tweets at the time I gather there was strong criticism of the way County officers had carried out their duties. My interpretation is that the officers followed written procedures rather than using their brains. They treated the several separate road closure and excavation applications from Vital as individual applications and granted a licence for each one instead of linking them together as one project. As a result, each part of the project failed to register as significant, so never triggered the need to inform councillors and residents, or to have a consultation.

I don’t know what the final outcome of the meeting was, but we do have the paper from the agenda with the officers’ recommendations.  This seems to accept that the ‘rules’ need changing, but wants to replace them with other equally definitive rules – for example

In future when the Council receives a section 50 application which will extend beyond 300m of the longitudinal length of the road and requires a full road closure then officers will make the Strategic Manager, Traffic Manager and the local County Councillor (s) for the affected area aware of the application.

This seems to me just to perpetuate the problem. If a closure of 300m is ‘strategic’, so is one of 299m. These should be guidelines, not rules – officers must be told to use their heads, their local knowledge (if any), and their professional expertise and discretion in judging when and how to seek the wider participation of councillors and local representatives.

Energy Project Newsletter – February

As part of their plans for local communication and information the OUH NHS Foundation Trust is gooing to produce a monthly newsletter about the Energy Project. The first one is out now, and you can download a copy here.