Category Archives: Cabinet

Motion on Air Quality Action Plans

 (Updated on 1st Jan 2018 to include the Oxford Mail article and Cllr Ware’s update about Air Quality Action Plan items in blue italics,.)

(Long post, sorry)

In 2015 Council published their Air Quality Action Plan, which contained 11 actions Vale committed to doing (most of them by 2017).

It looked to us Liberal Democrats like none of the action items had been completed, so we asked a question of the Cabinet member for Environmental Protection at last week’s full council meeting. You can see the question here.

We expected to get status updates for all of the outstanding actions. In anticipation of the Tories demonstrating that they hadn;t done what they said they would, Liberal Democrat Cllrs Catherine Webber and Debby Hallett tabled a motion requesting Cabinet to put funding in place for all our unmet commitments contained in the Air Quality Action Plan of 2015. 

Here’s the motion:

Proposed by Cllr Catherine Webber, seconded by Cllr Debby Hallett

This Council has statutory obligations to measure and monitor Air Quality in the District, to declare Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) where pollution is high, and to produce Air Quality Action Plans (AQAPs).

This Council also has an obligation to facilitate and implement the actions recommended in AQAPs, wherever possible.

This Council recognises the importance of taking action to reduce air pollution. To that end, Council requests Cabinet to do two things:

  • Include in their 2018/19 budget funding for all projects recommended in our 2015 AQAP that are not yet completed, and
  • Ensure this Council has a Low Emissions Strategy similar to that of South Oxfordshire District Council, which will focus Council’s efforts to reduce air pollution, particularly in Vale’s AQMAs.

The quality of the debate was dissappointing, to say the least. Here are some of the notable Tory contributions:

Cllr Eric Batts, Cabinet member, had some thoughts about my mention of Government’s estimate that 50 people die per year in Vale per year due to air pollution (I quoted Government’s report and its statistical modelling, which actually said 52 people die prematurely in Vale from exposure to air pollution). He said, “I used to live in North Hinksey and I never felt any ill effects from pollution. And the 50 people maybe include people who have come here from India or Pakistan.” (I hope he was thinking about their polluted large cities and not blaming high air pollution deaths in Vale on immigrants.)

A few days later, Cllr Batts expanded on his opinion for a reporter from the Oxford Times:

Cllr Elaine Ware, Cabinet member, said the failure to progress the action items from the 2015 Air Quality Action Plan was due to having a ‘very very hard time recruiting to fill the vacancies on the team’. (Could that have anything to do with the low staff morale caused by all the outsourcing they’ve done, and the Tories’ risky decisions to let too many of senior managers and officers leave the council?) (See her answers about Air Quailty Action Plan commitments here:

Cllr Mike Badcock contributed the interesting idea that the cause of the pollution out the Marcham Road was the successful implementation several years back (10 or more?) of the Abits one way street system in central Abingdon, which worked to reduce air pollution from standing vehicles in Abingdon. He said that scheme worked by pushing the pollution out the A415 towards Marcham. That may be, I don’t know. But it was irrelevant to the debate.

Cllr Roger Cox, Cabinet member, added to the irrelevant comments by telling us in a shaking voice that the “previous administration” (which ended when they took control 6 years ago) only had a part time (.25fte) air quality officer, but they (the Tories) have hired a new PhD level officer. (Cllr Webber reminded him that the new officer is also part time and works 18 hrs per week.) He can get rattled when faced with logical arguments.

Cllr Ed Blagrove, Cabinet member, said that we should not spend money until we know what the new officer thinks. (Of course it WAS the officers who suggested Vale should have a Low Emission Zone Strategy, one similar to that which SODC recently adopted for their people. And the Low Emission Zone Strategy was one of the ll action items from the 2-15 Air Quality Action Plan.)

I don’t recall that the Leader Cllr Matthew Barber spoke to this motion.

So the debaters missed the point. (All but Cllr Ware, and I think I’d like to hear more about how failure to recruit staff is causing council to be unable to do the work it commits to do.)

The motion was to call for Cabinet to properly fund the work council committed to doing back in 2015, and has not done.

The motion was voted down: 8 For (all the Liberal Democrats), 20 Against (all were Tory) and 3 Abstentions (all were Tory). The abstainers couldn’t find it in themselves to vote against the motion, but it looks like they were whipped to not vote for it. We called for a named vote, so you’ll be able to see the three abstainers when the minutes are published.

Question in Council on Air Quality Action Plans

(Updated 1 Jan 18 to  include Cabinet member’s reply  – in green italics)

At the full Vale council meeting on 13 Dec 2017, the Liberal Democrat Cllr Emily Smith asked a question of the Cabinet member for Environmental Protection Elaine Ware. Despite the fact that the question was submitted on time, 10 days before the council meeting, the Cabinet member said she was unable to supply an answer on the night, promising a written response in a few days. We had the reply on 21st Dec 2017. 

Here is the question:

Question from Cllr Emily Smith to Cabinet Member for Environmental Protection, Cllr Elaine Ware:

In the 2015 Air Quality Management Plan the 11 district wide actions were:

1. Creation of a ‘low emission strategy’ and ‘low emission zone’ feasibility study (target date 2017) – Named as a focus of work for 2017-18 in the Annual Status Report. This work is dependent on external funding. We are currently compiling a bid for a Defra air quality grant with Ricardo to undertake this work

2. Installation of electric vehicle recharging points – Planning conditions requiring electric charging points are placed on applicable planning applications

3. Parking permit & pricing incentives for green vehicles (target date 2016) – Target delayed due to resources. An air quality officer 0.5 post has been recruited and is currently undergoing training. Once this is completed the action plan target will
be rescheduled.

4. Feasibility study for freight transport consolidation centre (FCC) / freight quality partnership (target date 2016) – Initial discussions with OCC and other Local Authorities have concluded that this is a long-term action and will be raised when the new Oxfordshire infrastructure proposals are discussed.

5. Taxi licensing incentives for green vehicles (target date 2016) – Target delayed due to resources. An air quality officer 0.5 post has been recruited and is currently undergoing training. Once this is completed the action plan target with be rescheduled.

6. Improved use and enforcement of traffic regulation orders (target date 2016) – This action will be included in the proposed Low Emission Strategy study

7. Review of the council and contractors fleet – Named as a focus of work for 2017-18 in the Annual Status Report and is underway. New waste vehicles with improved emission standards are now operated by Biffa the waste contractor.

8. Eco driver training (trial to be complete by 2016) – Target delayed due to resources. An air quality officer 0.5 post has been recruited and is currently undergoing training. Once this is completed the action plan target will be rescheduled.

9. Air quality planning guidance (target date 2015) – This is referenced in the LPP2 proposals and consultation is taking place with various officers in planning to complete the document (target January 2018)

10. Community involvement projects – Named as a focus of work for 2017-18 in the Annual Status Report. The Vale is involved with Sustrans and local Abingdon groups to investigate a simple project connecting cycle routes in Abingdon and produce a dedicated map promoting cycling in the town. Botley schools – potential project supporting air quality as part of curriculum. Plan to apply for Defra funding for a public outreach project as a joint application with other Oxfordshire Councils in 2018. This would connect with schools, GP and local groups.

11. Introduce south facing slip roads to Lodge Hill interchange – This action has been approved nationally and is being executed by Oxfordshire County Council.

Please can the cabinet member confirm which of these actions are complete and provide an update of those which are not? What evidence do we have that each of these measures has been successful or otherwise?



Vale Local Plan Pt 2 – housing people can afford

I’m working on my review of Vale’s Local Plan Pt2. Consultation closes the 4th of May, but we’ll be away so I want to get my comments in early this week. 

We’ve heard the Vale’s leading Tories repeatedly tell us lack of genuinely affordable housing and over-congested highways (esp A34) are the two main obstacles to growth in the Vale. 

At a recent Scrutiny meeting, I asked the Cabinet member for planning, Cllr Roger Cox of Faringdon, a few questions. 

The main thing I wanted to know was how his Local Plan will help ordinary working people on ordinary wages (UK average is about £27,000 per year) to have a decent home. 

Cllr Cox is the Cabinet member responsible for the Local Plan. I had to repeat my question more than once: “What does your Local Plan do to provide more housing that ordinary people can afford?” Finally his shoulders dropped and he said, “Nothing.”

Well there we are. 

Vote the Tories out. 

Vale commits to multiple unitary authorities 

At the Vale council meeting on 11 May members debated a motion tabled by the leader of the council, Matthew Barber. 

This Council supports the proposal by district council leaders for the abolition of existing councils and the creation of new local unitary councils for Oxfordshire. 

Furthermore this Council welcomes the appointment of Pricewaterhouse Coopers to examine all options ahead of a public consultation this summer.

Lib Dems reminded council that we just last month spent £50,000 to commission a study that’s still under way. The consultants haven’t produced their report yet. 

In debate, Lib Dems pointed out that the wording in this motion,  “new unitary councils” eliminates from consideration a single unitary authority. That’s one of the options in the ongoing study, but this motion calls for council to only support the district leaders’ dream of multiple authorities. Of course a single unitary authority is the option preferred by our county council colleagues. 

Tory debaters all missed this key point. One speaker, Cllr Howell, focused on how we need to take a leadership position. No one was saying we shouldn’t do that. We were saying this is a premature commitment that should be managed according to the plan we already have in place, and not rushed in ahead of any evidence or public consultation. 

Another Tory speaker, Cllr Sandy Lovatt, admitted he didn’t “understand what the opposition was on about.” He stated it was only a motion supporting the consultants selection and summer consultation. Cllr Lovatt needs to read more carefully and pay closer attention. He missed the point that Cllr Barber was eliminating Oxfordhire County Council’s preferred option. Cllr Lovatt is a 3-hatter, so he is a town and county councillor in addition to a Vale councillor. In short, Cllr Lovatt voted with the several district council leaders, and against his own county council’s preferred approach to a unitary authority. How awkward.  (Their other member who is also a County councillor, Cllr Yvonne Constance, was absent from the Vale council meeting. Handily.)

Nutshell: the Tories all voted for this motion, which eliminates one of the four options currently being studied, before there’s been any evidence published and without listening to the public’s views. 

All Tories voted for the motion. All of your Lib Dem councillors voted against this poor decision.

Cabinet defers decision on Botley SPD

The first thing that happened at Cabinet this morning (after a question from a member of the public about Abbey Meadow Pool, and then one about affordable housing at Grove) was that four members excused themselves in order to maintain the separation between property sales and planning.

Remaining were Cllrs Cox (chairing), Murray, Dickson and Lovatt.

Cllr Cox proposed to defer decision on the Botley SPD to give them time to check the various claims they’ve had of unlawful and unsound practices. Cabinet agreed to defer.

Those who had come to speak were invited to, if they liked. Dr Mary Gill spoke first. Then Dr Stephen Parkinson. Mr Neil Rowley of Savills declined. Cllr Dudley Hoddinott spoke too, after me.

I spoke, but didn’t deliver my whole pitch. My objective (the Main Thing) had been to convince them to go back, take another look and tighten up all the sloppy bits of this process. There was no point in arguing after that point was won. (They had me at “deferred”!)

But I questioned Cllr Cox about his conflict of interest in sitting on this panel. He was one of the Cabinet members who originally made the decision to sell the land to Doric in 2012.

I asked him if he could tell me the reason he did not take his seat on planning committee the night in Dec 2014 when the Doric application was determined. He said it was to avoid the appearance of bias. I asked what had changed between then and now, what made him think he wasn’t in the same situation. He said, “My hands are clean.” He said he has not been involved in the property side of the issue since those early days. I guess I’ll have to look and see if that’s the case.

When I asked about the timeline, we were told we can expect a statement “in a couple of weeks”.

Cabinet: Meeting Oxford’s Unmet Housing Need 7 Aug 2015

(I’ve edited this post after the Cabinet meeting, to include an update.)

About 25 people came to the Vale Cabinet meeting Friday morning (7th Aug 15). The agenda item was the report from head of planning about options for high level approaches to Vale’s commitment to duty to cooperate to meet Oxford’s unmet housing need.

Six spoke: CPRE, SPADE, Sunningwell PC, Radley PC, keep Cumnor Green, and I.

Cllrs Barber and Murray gamely tried to answer questions from an obviously opposed audience. I got that they were trying to reassure people that no decisions were going to be taken and this was the beginning of consultation on the subject. I also got that they see the BIG opposition to Green Belt development. (But I think they’re going to go for it anyway.)

You can find the report within the agenda on the Vale’s website here: Scroll down to item 6. Once the minutes are published, you can see what everyone had to say to Cabinet.

Here’s what I had to say:

Vale’s report specifically refers to a ‘proven’ need for more housing than Oxford can accommodate.

Although I understand that Oxford isn’t being seen to be doing enough to help itself, as far as I’m aware there isn’t any legal provision for determining if any declared need is ‘proven’ or not. When the Oxfordshire Growth Board’s process for handling disagreement reaches its effective limit, the issue is dropped into a filing cabinet and nothing further is done. I would encourage the Growth Board to re-address this problem amongst yourselves. Personally, I expect Oxford will do little more that it has already done, and their neighbours will have to provide. It puts to question the meaning of ‘cooperation’.

I, and my Lib Dem group, remain opposed to piecemeal removal of bits of the Green Belt for housing development. We still seek a proper, independent and public Green Belt review, where the questions asked are honestly answered. There’s no sign of that forthcoming.

How can the various districts begin to consider options to meet Oxford’s unmet housing need before we have a completed Green Belt review, particularly, as in the case of the Vale, where Green Belt land is being considered as an option to meet the unmet need?

Once the number of extra houses neighbouring districts must build is ultimately agreed, then what? Where would the houses best be placed? To divide them equally between the four neighbouring districts seems amateurish, unfair, and ineffective. I’ve been reading that City’s housing need is greatest near their employment sites, on the eastern side of the city. That should be a consideration in deciding how best neighbouring districts can together meet the need. Consideration of proximity to jobs and provision of transport is relevant. If we build somewhere other than on the eastern edge of the city, then Oxford needs a modern and effective transport system to get people from home to work, not a old system (even an expanded OLD system) that continues to rely on the over capacity A34 and local roads.

And finally, housing need is explicitly not an exceptional circumstance that would allow for developing the green belt. If we needed green belt land in order to meet SHMA figures, then that fact should have been considered as a constraint when determining Vale’s housing targets for the Local Plan. What evidence has Vale produced to support the case for exceptional circumstances that would support development on the Green Belt?


The Oxford Times covered the story: