Category Archives: Questions and Motions

Question to Cllr Dickson about the delayed Village Halls survey

At the Vale full council meeting on 11 May 16, Cabinet member for Leisure, Cllr Charlotte Dickson, was away. Today she provided a written answer to the question submitted by Cllr Judy Roberts

(A few months ago, the leader of council, Cllr Matthew Barber, assured the Vale’s Scrutiny Committee that there had been no loss of performance or service delivery by the planning team due to their ongoing recruitment and retention challenges.)


Could the Cabinet member please explain the reasons for the delay in publication of the Village and Community Halls Survey, which was due in July 2015?

Written answer

The surveys of community and village halls formed part of the work that consultants carried out on the joint playing pitch strategy and associated work. We have received draft reports from the consultants and, as reported to Council in July 2015, we were on track to complete by the end of 2015. 

However, due to the demands of the Local Plan Examination, both in preparation and participation, during last autumn and winter/spring this year, a review of the work has been delayed. 

This work is now re-programmed for late spring/summer.

Question to Cllr Dickson about Abbey Meadows pool project

At the Vale full council meeting on 11 May 16, Cabinet member for Leisure, Cllr Charlotte Dickson, was away. Today she provided a written answer to the question submitted by Cllr Helen Pighills. 

(I’m told the complete re-do of the Hinksey Outdoor pool, including adding a beach area to make it more accessible, cost about £300,000. I’m trying to verify that. Abingdon residents have formally complained that Cabinet haven’t done what they promised.)


In the consultation on Abbey Meadows the public were overwhelmingly in support of Scenario A: ‘A place to swim and play’

The consultation leaflet stated ‘We would aim to carry out essential repairs to the swimming pool and changing rooms’.

Furthermore under ‘Improvements we can make’, the leaflet listed ‘Repair the outdoor swimming pool’ with ‘refurbish the changing rooms’ appearing in the ‘Additional improvements we will consider’.

Why then does the recently issued cabinet decision include refurbishment of the changing rooms with no mention of essential repairs to and upgrading of the pool including its ageing pool tank and heating/filtration system?

Written answer

We listened to the consultation feedback and are working to deliver Scenario A – a place to swim and play. The outdoor pool is opening to the public on Saturday 28 May and officers worked with GLL over the winter to improve the heating system, undertake an industrial clean and paint the pool tanks. We have an ongoing maintenance budget to carry out any other essential works – as we committed to in the consultation leaflet. 

The pool is clearly important to residents, which is why we are keeping it open. The changing rooms are an integral part of the pool complex and, therefore, need to meet health and safety standards. As the changing rooms are often the first area that people use and last area they leave, it is vital that they provide a pleasant environment. A refurbished changing facility will also provide a much more attractive approach to the complex, which in turn will enhance the whole area.

Refurbishing the changing rooms was ranked as the second most popular improvement by people taking part in the consultation, so there is clearly public support for this to happen, which is why we’ve selected it as a priority.

As well as doing what we can to refurbish the pool over the past winter, officers are working to procure contractors for the play area and building work improvements in order for these works to take place next winter in an attempt to minimise the disruption caused to residents and visitors.

However, we are also aware that there are thousands of visitors to Abbey Meadow every year who do not use the pool, and we have taken them into account. One of the key aspirations of the project is to improve the wider Abbey Meadow area so that it attracts more visitors throughout the year. To completely refurbish the pool would cost in excess of £520,000, not including costs associated with survey work and professional design fees. This would not leave any funding for changes elsewhere in Abbey Meadow, which will be key to bringing more people to the area throughout the year. Given the available budget, we believe that it is fairer, along with keeping the pool open and refurbishing the changing rooms, to carry out as many of the other top ten improvements throughout Abbey Meadow as possible for the thousands of visitors who spend time in this area.

We are actively seeking additional funding so that we can achieve some of the other suggestions. We have already built into the budget some £45,000 of section 106 money from the Old Goal development earmarked for play equipment and this will allow the available budget to go further.

Cllr Murray Q&A on cost of Local Plan 2031 so far

Question (from me)

The Cabinet has promised to take care of my interests across the Vale with enterprise, energy and efficiency. I don’t know what they mean by ‘enterprise’. ‘Energy’ isn’t enough if it doesn’t produce a good result. Tonight I’m interested in ‘efficiency’. Could the Cabinet member please report the total costs so far to create the emerging Local Plan? Please include all costs: officers, consultants, travel & food, phone calls, consultation, printing and distribution, and everything else that we have invested so far in producing our emerging Local Plan.


The cost of production of the Local Plan consumes almost all of the Vale’s diligent and hard working planning policy team’s financial budget, and for the last 3 years this has been £3,214,174 in total.

(Well, is that what I asked? I don’t think so. Work on the Local Plan has been going on at least since the 2011 elections. Before that was before my time, so who knows. The past three years mostly was spent waiting for the Examination and responding to inspectors questions. I expect the real answer would be more than twice what he’s supplied. Next stop: Finance department.)

Question to Cllr Murray about out of date planning policies 

Your Lib Dem Councillors work hard to get our questions and motion for council meetings just right. 

At the May Vale council meeting, only one Cabinet member was there to answer our question. Cllr Mike Murray wasn’t there, and we had two questions for him. He gave written replies. 

If it weren’t so infuriating, it would be laughable. 

Here’s one (from Emily Smith):

The planning department’s Statement of Community Involvement defines what the public can expect in term of communications and consultations from planning. It’s so out of date it lists Dr Evan Harris as our MP to be consulted. Why hasn’t this important policy document been kept up to date?


The Vale Local Development Scheme which was published in January 2016 and has since that time been available to view on the Vale’s website identifies the timetable for production of the updated Statement of Community Involvement.


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.

Question to Tories about Botley Petrol Station

I think the loss of the last local petrol stations is an environmental sustainability issue for Planning Policy.Today we learned that the Esso station in Oxpens Rd is to close 17 August.

I’m trying to get Vale Tories to recognise that loss of local options for fueling our cars forces thousands of drivers to hit the A34 (already a source of pollution and operating above capacity) to drive further afield to find petrol. I think this is a serious environmental issue that deserves Planning Policy consideration. We have ways to save local pubs, after all.

At the July full Vale Council meeting, I asked the Cabinet member for Planning Policy, Cllr Michael Murray, a question about it.

“The loss of the last petrol station in Botley is an environmental concern when it means thousands of extra cars must travel on the already over-capacity A34 to Peartree, Heyford Hill or Abingdon in order to fill the tank. What policy changes could the Vale consider to address this environmental sustainability issue?”

His reply: “We will all be very aware of the great strides forward in technology that the car manufacturing industry has taken in the past few years. In particular they have focussed on increasing fuel efficiency and reducing emissions. This, coupled with competition between suppliers and increased taxation on fuel to encourage reduced consumption, has resulted in greatly reduced margins and market capacity for roadside retailers. As such we have seen a considerable consolidation of the sector. However the improvement in vehicle range on a tank of fuel has very much reduced the need for local fuel provision. Whilst the BP garage at Seacourt Tower remains open for business, there is no certainty that this, or any other fuel, or other retail, or other commercial use for any building in the Vale, will continue to trade in the long term in the face of changing market conditions, and it does not appear immediately obvious why increasingly scarce council resources should be deployed to developing a fuel retailer policy specifically for Botley as a priority over other more pressing Vale wide matters”.

An unhelpful, and rather snarky response, I thought.

I asked my follow-up question regarding ways in which the council could demonstrate the need for a joined up planning policy approach in Botley, Cllr Murray first remonstrated with the chairman  that my question shouldn’t be allowed as it wasn’t really supplementary to the original question. Chairman ruled against him. So Cllr Murray then stated that views were sought during the consultation on the draft local plan. There would be a further opportunity to submit views/ideas during the Botley supplementary planning document consultation process.




(Un)answered Qs from Dec 2014 Council Meeting

You may have read about this in the Herald: Tight Lipped Vale Tories. (I think it was also in the Oxford Mail.)

At the Vale full council meeting on 10th Dec 2014, the Tories refused to answer questions in the meeting, in order to get away early for Christmas tipples and nibbles. Instead of answering in public, despite some Vale residents attending specifially to hear the answers, they said they’d respond in writing.

On Dec 24, we had those answers. Here’s the complete list of Questions and Answers in a pdf: Answers to Qs from Dec 2014 meeting

Questions for each full council meeting have to be submitted many days in advance of the agenda being published, and the agenda is published 7 days before the meeting. There’s plently of time for Cabinet members (etc) to prepare answers. Our constitution doesn’t require public, verbal answers to properly submitted questions, but by refusing to provide them, Tories have shown their true colours on how much they value communication.

One of the roles of an effective opposition is to question the ruling party; it is one way to help prevent corrruption and bad decision-making. Where there is in effect no opposition, there is no democracy in action. By shutting down the public questions, Tories remove one of the valuable safeguiards in local government.

What’s next?

Since there was no chance to ask the usual supplementary questions at Council, the Lib Dem councilllors are working on their supplementary questions. Watch this space.

Local Plan Consultation Results?

16 July 2014 full council meeting.

Question from Councillor Debby Hallett to Councill Mike Murray, Cabinet member for planning policy:

The Vale consulted on its draft Local Plan 2029 in February 2013. How many responses were received, and could the Cabinet member please tell me when the consequentional changes made to the first draft Local Plan 2029 will be made public, and how he intends to highlight what has changed between the drafts?

He said, and I scribbled:

Report was published Feb 2014 that told us 2340 reponses from 500 people and organisations. The next draft will be published later this year. The consequential changes will be part of that draft.

My supplementary question:

What does the Cabinet member see as the purpose of his Local Plan Consultations? That is, what is the overall intention of Consultations?

He repeated the official line, that’s it’s to get opinion of the public to inform decision making.

My bet is that Doric’s contribution to the Local Plan 2029 we consulted on will still be in there, in spite of many of us reponsing that it wasn’t our vision for Botley.

I’ve also sent a query as to the status of Oxford Brooks University’s Master Plan. It was in the first draft as a Supplementary Planning Document, but was put on hold in July 2013.

Vale’s policy for lettings in West Way

16 July 2014 at the full council meeting:

Question from Councillor Debby Hallett to Councillor Elaine Ware, Cabinet member for economy, leisure and property:

What is the current policy for deciding about letting emty units in West Way Centre?

Cllr Ware’s answer was verbal, so I scribbled some notes. (I expect her answer will be in the council’s minutes when they are published.)

The Vale owns West Way and makes the letting decisions. Out of courtesy, Doric are consulted. Doric’s concern is that letting agreements not go beyond Dec 2015, which would interfere with their development plans. Doric sometimes make a financial contribution to help offset the lower-than-market rents in any deals that are affected by the short term of the ageement.

Then I asked as a supplementaty (no advance notice is given to anyone of the nature of a supplementary question):

What role do Doric Properties play in the day-to-day running of West Way?

Answer: essentially, none. The Vale own and manage the property.

Subsequently I reported to the CEO David Buckle that there have been some mis-communications to current tenants about Doric’s role in every day decisions. For example, the agent told busness owners that Doric held approval authority over the West Way Festival and other potential events. Mr Buckle says Doric don’t have that role. The Vale own West Way. I asked that the agents be updated with correct information.