I need to start with Covid. Rates in Oxfordshire are now as high as they have been from the start of the pandemic. The new Omicron variant is a great worry. We can expect that, because Oxford is a centre of travel both nationally and internationally, we will soon be seeing more cases locally on top of the ones already announced. It’s vital that people are sensible, follow the rules about masks, and take care. There are local drop-in centres for boosters in Witney and Kidlington, unfortunately with significant queuing.
The main activity at County Hall at present relates to the budget for next year. This is now out to public consultation and you can find this on the County Council website, along with lots of detail. Although consultation weariness has probably set in among most of us in Eynsham, I would urge people to contribute.
It has been a challenging task to create a balanced budget given the very large number of things we want to do and the very limited available funds. There clearly are lots of things that we need to improve in key areas like adult social care and children’s services. It is incredibly frustrating that we are having to spend the money that the Government has awarded as housing infrastructure funds on a set of road changes that we don’t think will be effective when we could spend it elsewhere, but we are unable to change these commitments made by the previous administration.
The HIF2 arrangements – better known as the A40 changes – are likely to go for formal planning permission early in the new year. This will herald a formal consultation period, and residents and parish councils will be able to have their say. My view is that the officers have done a good job of improving what was originally proposed and that, given that we are unable to change the project fundamentally, we can at least look forward to better placed bus stops, easier road crossings and some bus and cycling improvements, even if there are significant areas that should be changed even more.
Residents with property adjacent to the A40 have had a letter from the County Council asking them to register their interest in any land likely to form part of the plans. This was worded in a way that caused some distress to some residents, but I have been assured had to be so done to comply with the legal process. I have suggested a resident/County Council meeting should be set up – and understand that the Parish Council has made the same suggestion.
There is also an issue with the entry to the Thomas Homes (TH) site at the old nursery. TH has planning permission to have the access arrangements via Old Witney Road (OWR). This isn’t what they want, what residents of OWR want, nor is it compatible with the County Council plans for the A40, which seeks the same area for the bike/pedestrian facilities associated with the new road layout. There needs to be a resolution, which I hope will involve blocking OWR at a suitable point and allowing access for motor vehicles to the TH site via the new roads in the west of Eynsham. I have urged the developers of the various sites to talk to each other.
Oxfordshire County Council has taken over parking enforcement in Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire, and has increased the amount of enforcement to keep roads and pavements clear. It would be good if West Oxfordshire District Council, which runs enforcement here, also put effort into ensuring that parking is legal and considerate. I see many complaints from all of the villages in the Eynsham division about dangerous parking. I have no doubt that active parking enforcement would be a big improvement on what we currently have.
The final piece of funding to enable the First and Last Mile bus service to start on 4 January is now in place. It will be fantastic for people in the villages south and north of here to be able to get to Eynsham (and if they want, on to Oxford, Witney or Long Hanborough and its station), without needing to drive. I very much hope people will opt to take the bus.
As people will have noticed, the County Council has had to put closure notices on the path between Back Lane car park and Mill Street, as a wall has partially collapsed and is likely further to collapse. There are complexities relating to ownership, improvements to make the path wider and heritage issues, which mean it won’t be a very quick job, but I have urged the team to make it a priority. In the meantime, the barriers will be strengthened to prevent access.
I was honoured to be at two community events recently, both of which showed what fantastic communities we have. The new social club for seniors in Aston and Cote was opened and I was pleased to cut the ribbon on what will be a fantastic weekly event. I also took part in a climate change workshop held by pupils from all the schools that are part of the Eynsham Partnership Academy Trust. This included students of all ages from Bartholomew School sixth formers to youngsters from the various primary schools including Eynsham Community Primary. It was very impressive to hear well-argued cases for practical things that they thought the schools could do to address climate change, and there was commitment from the assembled head teachers to implement a number of them.
I hope everyone has a good Christmas and New Year.
Please feel free to contact me by phone on 07852 748362 or email [email protected].