Cost of living
The County Council is sending a one-off payment of £85 to 11,000 lower income, pensionable households to support with energy bills. Eligible residents will receive an Oxfordshire-branded letter, redeemable for cash at Post Office branches. Schools and colleges will provide children entitled to free school meals with a £15 voucher.
There is also a £100,000 pot to help community organisations with energy bills. Applications for grants of between £250 and £3,000 can be made through the Oxfordshire Community Foundation. This is expected to be popular and the deadline for applications is 21 November 2022.
The District Council has agreed a new exceptional hardship scheme on top of the statutory council tax discount scheme that goes to Cabinet next week. OCC has agreed to match the WODC discounts – this is important because the bulk of council tax receipts go to the County Council.
Many residents in rural areas live without access to mains energy, instead using heating oil, bottled gas, or other forms of fuel. That is certainly true in many parts of rural Oxfordshire, including many households in the division I represent. The leader of the Council will write to Government to request off-grid residents receive the same level of support (£400) as on-grid residents. Rather surprisingly, Conservative councillors abstained on the motion on the basis that local authorities shouldn’t “interfere” in central Government decisions.
OCC is supporting new ‘micro enterprises’ to become established care providers, helping local businesses to grow and develop greater local choice for people looking for additional support. The Community Catalysts’ programme takes people through the standards, so that new micro-enterprises have a thorough understanding of what it takes to deliver quality care. Over 100 people have signed up, with the combined capacity to support 1,000 people in the county.
OCC is appealing to the Government to urgently address the national funding issues facing all local authorities providing Special Educational Needs & Disabilities (SEND) services for children and young people. The County Council has also submitted bids to the Department of Education for two further special free schools.
Environment and transport
The OCC tree services team has been successful in a bid to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for funding. The money will be used to employ two new Community Tree and Woodland Planting Officers who will work to increase tree cover across the county.
OCC has approved a new policy for streetlights to reduce impact on climate change and the environment. The policy considers the impact of light pollution on nature and dark skies when assessing where lighting should be added. When new lighting is necessary, dimming the brightness and reducing operating hours will be used to preserve the night sky.
Developers will need to follow a revised set of guidelines when they consider parking provisions for new developments. New standards place much more emphasis on bicycles, shared car clubs, and public transport than on multiple cars per household. A household graduated approach is taken to allow for increased need for parking in rural settings.
Cheaper Park and Ride tickets are now available. Passengers can buy a combined ticket covering both parking and return bus travel for £4 for a car with a single adult and £5 for a car and two adults. With both options, up to three children under 16 can travel for free. Drivers are encouraged to purchase a combined ticket through the RingGo parking app, or at one of the onsite ticket machines.
You may have seen that work has started on the Eynsham Park and Ride. It isn’t clear yet how the discounted ticket scheme would work here, as it is so much further out of the city and the discounted ticket is cheaper than the standard bus fare.
Public consultation on the Oxford traffic filters closed on 13 October 2022. The next step is for the Cabinet to make a decision on 29 November 2022, when the Cabinet will also consider the outcomes of the public consultation and the closure of Botley Road for a year by Network Rail to accommodate improvements to the railway.
Network Rail’s decision to close Botley Road for such an extended period is unwelcome, although the station improvements are needed and the bridge under the railway requires replacement. Most buses will terminate at the Seacourt Park and Ride, with a shuttle service running to the railway bridge. From there, pedestrians can walk into the city or pick up buses at the station. The station will be open throughout, apart from a period during August, and I expect additional use of Hanborough and Parkway stations.
As a reminder, there will be nowhere in the city that cannot be reached by car. The traffic filters just make the route different to allow buses to move through faster.
The consultation on the planning inspector’s amendments to the WODC Area Action Plan for the Salt Cross Garden Village has now closed. The County Council, along with many residents and groups – and WODC itself – has strongly called for the obligation for new housing to be Net Zero to be put back into the plan.
The Cabinet Member responsible has suggested that the new strategy for freight is being prepared. I will continue to press for heavy traffic to be routed away from villages and for proper enforcement – the use of APNR cameras on Newbridge demonstrates their effectiveness.
Last week, I met with the Police and Crime Commissioner and the Head of the Thames Valley Roads Policing Team, reminding them that speed management is an important part of their responsibilities. They are, of course, strapped for resources and reliant on Speedwatch volunteers, but that isn’t good enough.
Thanks to Eynsham Community Primary School, WODC Cllr Andy Goodwin, and Cllr Ross Macken from the Parish Council for putting together a reminder about the one-way convention in the school area and the importance of not parking on the bends during pick-up and drop-off times. We all want children and staff to be able to get to school by bike, foot or scooter safely. I hope the reminder works. If not, I will investigate further options.
As ever, please contact me with comments, queries and suggestions on firstname.lastname@example.org.