Please find my report on County Council matters.
County Council administration
The Labour group has resigned from the administration at County Hall and withdrawn from the Oxfordshire Fair Deal Alliance. This follows an OFSTED report which highlighted a number of failings in the County Council’s support for those with Special Educational Needs (SEND).
In response to the demands from some parents of the children affected and our observation of how the department was being run, the Lib Dem and Green groups suggested to Labour that it might choose to have a change in the cabinet leadership of the Children’s Services directorate. Labour apparently took this as meaning that their freedom of choice of cabinet members was being curtailed.
It is very unfortunate, particularly as many people had congratulated us on being able to put together a progressive alliance. The Lib Dems and Greens have formed a minority administration that will continue to implement the objectives previously agreed by the council. Among other things, we have appointed a cabinet member specifically to address SEND issues with urgency.
An extraordinary meeting of the County Council met on Friday 13 October to discuss the SEND report and was addressed by concerned parents. We are committed to making the improvements they rightly demand.
The Cabinet member for finance and property, Calum Miller, has chosen to stand down to spend more time working to become the first MP for the new Bicester and Woodstock constituency (which contains Eynsham, South Leigh and Cassington). I have taken over this cabinet role, in a challenging time for council budgets. And I have resigned from the West Oxfordshire District Council Executive, while remaining a district councillor at WODC.
Electoral Commission review of Oxfordshire
As you may recall, the County Council seats and boundaries for Oxfordshire are under review by the Electoral Commission. The process has now moved to public consultation. Details are available here: https://www.lgbce.org.uk/all-reviews/oxfordshire
The suggested new structure would remove some of the southern parts of the Eynsham Division from the seat and put them in a new Carterton and Bampton seat. Eynsham would remain, not surprisingly, in Eynsham. It will be odd to have parliamentary, county and district seats which don’t match up neatly, but the old Witney constituency was odd to be so logical.
The work to build a new station in Oxford ran into issues when the road under the railway bridge was found to be covering an interesting archaeological structure. That has made creating the new bridge more difficult.
In order to meet the deadline for finishing the new station by October 2024, Network Rail have taken the decision to move to 24-hour working and to keep the closure of Botley Road to motor vehicles in place during the period they had previously planned to open it. That means the road will remain closed to cars (but open to pedestrians) during the Oct 2023 to March 2024 period, then right though until Oct 2024. Stagecoach will continue to run the S1 service to the station via the A40 and the excellent E1 to Osney.
The additional closure is difficult. Businesses remain open on Botley Road. However, at the end of the process, we will have a bridge that is a better height for conventional buses and safer for people on foot or bike. We will also have a station with additional platforms to accommodate the new service to Milton Keynes and the potential services from Cowley and from Carterton/Witney/Eynsham.
At the same time, National Highways is working on the A420/A34 junction and have insisted on doing this even while National Rail have closed Botley Road.
There are no new developments on the HIF 2 bus scheme. Discussions are still ongoing with Homes England about funding. Assuming those are positive, the outlined plans will be turned into detailed ones.
The Park and Ride build is on schedule and (importantly) the finished construction will actually include the ability for buses and cars to get in and out of it.
In terms of Shores Green (access to Witney), this received planning permission in July, but minor (welcome) changes in landscaping will require a further approval. The process of purchasing the land for the scheme not currently owned by the County Council is progressing.
As ever, please get in touch with issues, comments or anything else via email@example.com.