The gridlock which inconvenienced the village on the first Monday of November was a stark reminder of Milton's vulnerability to any disruption in the flow of the A34. The hours of near standstill are not an uncommon experience and will have severely interrupted the economic and social activity of the village on that day.
We all know the problems of the A34: the sheer weight of traffic which is often carrying freight in or out of Southampton; the presence of only two lanes; excessive driving speeds; and poor driving decisions often made by fatigued drivers.
Long term the solutions involve new road provision, possibly including a motorway stretch between Northampton and Southampton. This is controversial and unlikely to be even decided in the short term. However, with the A34 currently carrying 79,000 vehicles a day, and only likely to increase with development in our area, a significant network upgrade cannot be deferred indefinitely.
Locally there are some alterations which could improve the situation. These are currently being promoted by the A34 action group. Included within the ideas are a full risk assessment of the road; evidence-based calming measures, such as average speed cameras or chevrons in the right places; and improved flow mechanisms, such as a crawler lane or, in particular parts of the A34, no-overtaking areas. The suggested improvements also include refuge and rest areas and a hard shoulder.
The problem of the A34 is too big for any local council to tackle unilaterally, however through joint working the county and district councils can make the case to central Government of the economic case for improving road flow on the A34. Additionally, the number of accidents – 2,000 between 2010 and 2014 – brings an impact to lives which should encourage Government to act.
Through the Local Enterprise Partnership and the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway Project, local councils are promoting the upgrade of the A34. Our local Member of Parliament has made the A34 a clear priority of his parliamentary work. There is activity to secure change – we just need to keep the pressure on for action to be taken.
May I take the opportunity to wish all residents a peaceful Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
What Constitutes Success?
For an athlete, the answer is fairly simple: a quick time, a long/high leap or a far throw. For a business, it isn’t so straightforward, but many would say net profit is a rather good indicator. However, for public services the assessment is much more difficult.
The quality of service that a public body delivers is surely the most important factor? That might be true, but when the funding for delivering that service comes from general taxation it is vital that the service is delivered efficiently. And what about access to the service? Nothing is infinite and so all services need to be rationed according to some method; the method deployed will determine the quality for each individual.
This complex calculation over how to deliver a quality public service is what drives the rather lively debate between councils in Oxfordshire over which structure to adopt in coming years. Should the whole of Oxfordshire’s local services be delivered by one council, or should smaller units of the county be responsible for delivering all services to their locality?
Expensive management consultants have been used to generate data on efficiencies, delivery and accountability. Despite the pages of fact, figures and projections, as with all decisions made by public bodies, the answer will be a decision on values and priorities. It is important that local councillors listen to the electorate and make decisions which aren’t governed by sectional interests.
At a Full Council meeting of the Vale in October the whole council committed to working proactively with neighbouring local authorities to ensure the best interests of our residents are served. The debate will continue, and in large part will be governed by central Government’s thinking, but I would be interested to hear your views.
If you have an opinion on how Oxfordshire’s councils should be structured please let me know.
The New Local Plan
For watchers of the planning process, a key event we are waiting for is the adoption of the District Council's new Local Plan. This Plan will contain the policies directing development over the next 15 years. A!though there are contentious elements within the document, onceJt has been approved and adopted the Council will have regained local control over development.
The Council's proposed new Local Plan (Part 1) was subject to some modifications after the Planning Inspector assessed the contents. These modifications have been consulted on over the summer; the consultation has now closed. The inspector will hopefully issue his final report in November and if he approves the changes the Council can move to adoption of this part of the Local Plan, expected in December.
Whilst adoption of Part 1 isn't the end of the Local Plan process, it will demonstrate the Council has enough of a land supply to meet our obligations as set down by Government. This would he a significant achievement for the Council, meaning we are subjective to fewer speculative planning applications.
Prior to the political upheaval seen after the referendum, debate was ongoing about local government re-organisation. The County Council was advocating a slngle council to undertake all of the local authority functions in Oxfordshire, whereas the District Councils were proposing a reduction in councils.
The new ministerial team in Government will have their own ideas about council evolution and so there has been a slowing of the process. This doesn't necessarily mean there won't be change, however the approach and timeframe may have shifted with the new faces in change.
Donning green tights and becoming Peter Pan for an afternoon wasn't something I expected to do this year! This said, I also hadn't expected to encounter the persuasive powers of John and Anne Wattam.
The Read-a-Thon was a brilliant event, with a magnificent purpose. Milton should be proud of the community spirit on display which brought much laughter, enjoyment and hopefuiiy, a desire to read to the many youngsters who attended.
Although everyone involved should be proud, special credit should go to John and Anne Wattam for organising, and the Mockler family for hosting. I look forward to seeing the event continue to thrive in coming years.
As ever please do contact me with any Vale related queries contact details shown above.
As the financial year closes, I thought it might take everyone’s mind off the Brexit / Bremain campaign by reflecting on 2015 / 2016 at the Vale.
The biggest event for me of course has been the progress of the Local Plan through examination. We are now submitting suggested modifications and information that the inspector requested, primarily relating to housing land supply figures, Oxford’s unmet need, and some green belt clarification, but also to include safeguarding for a new reservoir between Longworth and Standlake.
This is on Thames Water’s request, to give the option of water transfer (with this smaller reservoir) as an alternative to the enormous reservoir planned for just north of the A417 between Steventon, Drayton, Marcham and Hanney. Also of interest is the new policy included to provide better detail and clarity on the vision for Harwell Campus, and the housing allocation alongside it. This information will be published on the Vale website after it has been sent to the inspector on 29th April. Officers have done a lot of work to assemble robust housing figures, and we are hopeful that the inspector will write to us in perhaps June with his comments. If he says that he thinks the Local Plan is sound (with our suggested, or other modifications) then we anticipate that we will, at long last, be able to say we have a 5-year housing land supply, and can regain control of our housing planning.
The other big event has been the announcement that the Oxfordshire authorities have been looking at a new devolution settlement and local authority restructure. This is primarily to drive down administration cost (as The Vale and South Oxfordshire have done) but also to make services more relevant and accountable locally. As one might imagine there is a range of opinion about how best this could be done, but parishes’ experience of the glacial progress of the government funded Science Vale Cycle Strategy implementation, and the axing of bus services might lead one to believe that the current arrangements leave room for improvement. Consultants have been appointed to assess options, and their report is expected in the summer.
Final news on planning. Regular planning committee watchers will have noticed that a significant number of application that should probably be better dealt with under delegated powers make their way onto the planning committee agenda. These are often where parish councils have asked for a matter to be considered at committee, but then do not speak, and the committee follows the officer’s recommendation. Also, the amount of applications that come to committee mean that there is little time to ask questions of speakers, in order to fully explore their areas of concern. National planning rules have changed in this area too, with an emphasis on speeding up and simplifying the planning system. In order to support this, the Vale is looking at ways of getting parishes more involved earlier in planning matters (and asking them to be involved in the resolution of their concerns through dialogue), and to provide a level of training for parish councils in planning matters. In return, applications of 10 housing units or less would need to be called to committee by the ward councillor.
As ever please do contact me with any Vale related queries contact details shown above.