Annual Report; May 21 to April 22
Dan Levy, County Councillor for Eynsham Division (which incorporates Aston, Cassington, Chimney, Cote, Eynsham, Hardwick, South Leigh, Standlake, Stanton Harcourt, Sutton and Yelford)
It was an honour to succeed Charles Mathew as County Councillor for Eynsham Division in May 2021, and any annual report ought to start by paying tribute to his service to this part of the county over many years. Charles was unfailingly helpful to me as a resident, as a district councillor and after I was elected as a county councillor, and I know that other residents share my gratitude to him for helping them during his period of office.
The election results meant that no party at County Hall had an overall majority, and so the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Labour agreed to work together as the Oxfordshire Fair Deal Alliance, with Cllr Liz Leffman as leader. The three parties share a great deal in common, and it was not difficult to find huge areas in which we are looking to make fundamental changes to the way that Oxfordshire is treated.
We put together 9 priorities, which guide what we are trying to achieve. These are:
Put action to address the climate emergency at the heart of our work.
Tackle inequalities in Oxfordshire.
Prioritise the health and wellbeing of residents.
Support carers and the social care system.
Invest in an inclusive, integrated and sustainable transport network.
Preserve and improve access to nature and green spaces.
Create opportunities for children and young people to reach our full potential.
Play our part in a vibrant and participatory local democracy.
Work with local businesses and partners for environmental, economic and social benefit.
Much time has been spent managing the difficulties left after 16 years of the previous administration, including managing the leftover uncancellable mega-projects including the two HIF schemes (in Didcot/Culham and the A40) and the emergency repair of the Oxford bypass (which was left hideously underfunded by our predecessors, who had assumed that there would be no cost overruns and no inflation). You will see from the state of the roads and inadequate school transport, among many other things, how much we have to fix. Much of my time has been spent trying to get improvements to the new A40, so that it is less dangerous for people trying to cross it, less noisy for residents, and more likely to work for users, in buses, cars and on bikes - there is some way still to go to make it acceptable.
However, we have also made an energetic start to implementing our priorities.
Getting on with what was promised
Consultation is now easier, with a new consultation system in place. We of course consulted on the 9 priorities. Consultation is not a referendum, and it is certainly not a case of who shouts loudest gets heard most. We are however, determined to make our local democracy as vibrant as possible and to listen to residents and businesses.
We have committed to supporting active travel and transport. This includes introducing electric buses, building new bike lanes such as between Bladon and Hanborough and (soon) between Hanborough and Eynsham, and providing support for community bus services such as the one that connects Standlake, Stanton Harcourt, Eynsham, Freeland and Hanborough Station. The County Council is funding a feasibility study for rail improvements, including the restoration of the much-needed Carterton-Witney-Eynsham-Oxford link. The roll out of charging points is underway, including the ones in Eynsham.
I wish we could do more, more quickly, but as ever an absence of funding slows things up.
After being abolished by the previous administration, we have reintroduced a youth service to Oxfordshire, which will work with charities and other providers to make sure that, where we can, young people in danger of going astray are assisted to stay as positive members of our communities. This helps them and the rest of us. Recruitment for these roles is taking place at the moment.
A key election commitment was to reduce speed in our villages, and we have introduced a much simpler route for Parish Councils to get 20 mph zones. Around 70 have already applied, and a number are already in place. The long and expensive process before has been replaced with a simple local consultation and parish request. All of the parishes in Eynsham division have expressed an interest and the first approval, for Eynsham, is imminent.
Although it is outside the control of local authorities, a problem across Oxfordshire, and especially in this part, is the deplorable performance of Thames Water, and its readiness to put sewage in our rivers, including the Evenlode, Thames and Windrush. I have had numerous meetings with TW, from CEO downwards. All we can do is keep putting pressure on them, and remind them that they must invest in their failing infrastructure. So far they have failed to come up with a plan to expand the facilities for the approx. 5000 additional homes, here and in Begbrook, that are going to connect to Cassington Sewage Treatment Works.
There is a lot going on. For instance, there is a review of Home to School transport, with a view to ending the position in places like Standlake where there is some confusion over which secondary school entitles parents to get transport and in which the County has to lay on additional services to multiple schools. That should report later in the year.
We have of course had a number of international crises to manage at a local level. Covid remains at very high levels in the County, regardless of the assumption that it has now ended. And we have welcomed first Afghan and then Ukrainian refugees to the County. The generosity of the people of West Oxfordshire is noteworthy.
Anyone with an issue or who wants to share their opinion can get hold of me at email@example.com.