We are in, as you will have noticed, challenging times.
I had hoped not to have to mention Covid again, but numbers are rising rapidly. I would like to pass on the advice of Ansaf Azhar, Oxfordshire County Council’s Director for Public Health:
“It’s been great for everyone to relax after the difficult last couple of years we’ve had with rules of varying kinds meaning restrictions on our lives. Currently there are no restrictions but there is still good, solid guidance that people are advised to observe to protect themselves and their families, particularly vulnerable and elderly people.
The main bit of advice is to stay at home if you feel unwell – but it’s also worth reminding people of all those things that we learned during the height of the pandemic to reduce the risk of Covid spreading.
This includes ventilating indoor spaces and washing your hands. During periods of good weather being outdoors rather than indoors also helps reduce risks.
We expect to see fluctuations in cases and it remains the case we need to learn to live with Covid, but we need to strike a sensible balance and I would ask people to take precautions while cases are on the rise. Let’s enjoy the summer and our regained freedoms but keep in mind that Covid hasn’t gone away and we all need to play our part to live safely.”
Cost of Living Crisis
We are in a period of rapidly rising prices. This affects everyone but has a higher impact on people in many rural locations, especially if they rely on motor vehicles or are not connected to the gas network. Although gas and electricity prices are rising quickly, there is at least a price cap, unlike with bottled gas or tanked oil.
The County Council is lobbying Government to enable us to offer some support. We had tabled a motion to the Council meeting on 12 July to add force to this effort, but unfortunately the meeting closed prior to the debate on this topic after a walkout by opposition members. It was extremely unsatisfactory not to be able to air the concerns of residents in public.
We are fortunate in Eynsham that most people have mains gas and electricity and good public transport connections, but there are still a lot of residents who are starting to find it difficult to manage the pressures on their finances.
Following the recent spate of tragic deaths of cyclists in Oxfordshire, the county has adopted ‘Vision Zero’ in a bid to eliminate road deaths and serious injuries. The decision adds weight to on-going efforts to improve cycle and walking infrastructure and reduce driving speeds. I was pleased to speak on behalf of this motion as County Active Travel Champion.
Of course, it is easier to have a vision than to put it into practice. We must promote safe walking and cycling infrastructure, especially at road junctions, and apply our vision in the countryside as well as the city. Unfortunately, the cycle facilities that are being built into many new developments are still not up to standard, including in the proposed A40 layout. There is much work still to do.
Some good news is that Oxfordshire has been granted extra powers to enforce traffic violations using ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) cameras. This permission is for specific places, but we can apply for additional locations in the future. Up to now, only Cardiff and London councils have had these powers. Among other things, these powers will make delivering ‘school streets’, where motor vehicles are restricted during school entry and exit times, much easier.
The cabinet approved a plan to improve bus services, using the £12.7 million that the county secured from Government. The plan includes cheaper fares for under-19s, two new rural services (around Didcot and Bicester), and bus priority improvements and traffic filters (in Oxford). Improvements to bus stops, real time information, and the quality of buses are also planned. The plan will be consulted on with the bus companies and will need Government sign-off to proceed.
I appreciate that such improvements might feel a bit remote for people off the main bus routes. Unfortunately, we are constrained by Government policy and the availability of grants, but I will, along with others, keep banging the drum for rural services.
The services run by Stagecoach via Eynsham are among the company’s most successful. The bus company have said that the building of the Park&Ride and the changes to the A40 will enable them to run additional services to the hospitals and city. I hope this will prove to be the case.
HIF1 and HIF2
The County Council cabinet has agreed to proceed with Housing Infrastructure Fund 1 (‘HIF1’), consisting of four road/bridge projects around Didcot. While it is an inherited Conservative project, the Lib-Dem-led administration worked to improve provision for active travel and public transport, as well as better mitigate cost risks to the council
HIF2 is the A40 project. The cabinet approved merging this with the Park&Ride project to give more flexibility in the finances and more control over timescales. There are still lots of areas that need improvement in the A40 plans, particularly to make crossing between Eynsham and Salt Cross safe and convenient.
In addition, the Shores Green project (to deliver westbound access to and eastbound access from the A40 at Cogges) looks to be coming for approval in the next few months. It may change traffic patterns to the south of the A40 and I would expect some new A40 avoidance routes and ‘preferred’ ways between the A40 and A420.
There appears to have been an increase in HGVs using Eynsham as a short cut. This is, of course, illegal, as there is a 7.5 tonne weight limit in the village. Particularly regrettable is HGV drivers attempting to turn from Mill Street into Acre End Street, despite the very clear signage on Mill Street forbidding this. The Jolly Sportsman is taking the brunt of the problem. Acre End Street will be closed for a period in August while the frontage of the pub is repaired.
Officers at the County Council are considering what else can be done to prevent this access by HGVs. In the meantime, I encourage residents to try to get details of the miscreants (including the company, time and registration number) and let me know.
I had an interesting morning watching traffic outside the primary school. It was encouraging to see how many pupils were arriving on foot or bike, but also how selfish some drivers were being. We need to make it safer for active travel and protect young residents from pollution. I will draw up some suggested improvements.
As ever, I can be contacted by email or phone at any time.