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Labour seems tired and imprisoned by barriers

John Skinner, Independent candidate in St Mary's reviews the Spring edition of East Oxford Matters, issued recently by Oxford Labour.


Background

Labour has been in control of Oxford City Council for more than a generation and once upon a time had energy. Today it seems tired and out of ideas; torn between blaming the Government for everything and taking no responsibility for policies it has helped to shape at City and County levels.

Oxford Labour recently issued its Spring edition of East Oxford Matters which introduces Mustafa Barcho, their candidate for St Mary’s. He looks like a nice guy, but he is being fed on apple pie statements like “wanting a fairer, greener East Oxford” while being incredibly short on specifics.

It has anti-Tory rhetoric, welcome news on additional youth workers and a statement on the city’s budget, but little content specific to St Mary’s or about many issues that come up when I am canvassing.


Where would you like your barrier?

On LTNs we learn from the newsletter that “Labour continues to be out each week listening to residents’ views”. But Mustafa and Damian Haywood (the county councillor for this area) are “particularly interested in local views on filter locations” – in plain English, “where would like your barrier?” Labour certainly isn’t listening to the residents I speak to who do not want them at all.

Labour says they must fit into “a comprehensive strategy to address issues of traffic and congestion on local roads, support safer walking and cycling routes and promote greater use of public transport to slash emissions and air pollution.” These vague aims are bundled up as if it was a plan – without acknowledging the extra congestion and pollution they are creating. The comprehensive strategy seems to consist of bringing Oxford to a halt. Slashing emissions and air pollution are dramatic empty phrases. (Airborne pollution does not respond well to being slashed at.)


There are alternatives. South Fulham has a congestion and pollution reduction scheme that appears to have been co-designed with residents and takes account of real-world needs. It does not use barriers. Oxford could have designed their scheme with residents, but they preferred to listen to a clique who think that all car use is bad.


Is all car use bad? Amongst the reasons residents tell me they use their cars are:

  • take their children to Blackbird Leys to learn to swim;

  • take their grandchildren back to Littlemore after post school childcare;

  • care for elderly relatives who live in Florence park;

  • drive to the hospitals as on-call Doctors;

  • go to work.

You do not reduce pollution by making journeys longer. If bus gates are installed and you drive to Kidlington from St Mary’s, you will travel an additional 3.3 miles (40% increase) around the western bypass increasing gridlock, increasing pollution, and increasing expense at a time when fuel costs have risen sharply.


Nor is Labour listening to the businesses on Cowley Road and Magdalen Road who are almost universally opposed to the schemes and say they will cost jobs and risk closures.


The newsletter pretends that Quickways are the answer for cycling when any sensible cyclist knows that cycling safety is best achieved by separation from road traffic. It is madness to push all the traffic onto the boundary roads and then encourages cyclists to share them!


Labour also doesn’t mention how stressful parking has become for many residents. How will residents park close to home (where they pay for a permit) when Labour is getting rid of 650 parking spaces in the Quickways scheme?


LTNs are just one of the issues we face in St Mary's

The newsletter has nothing about insulating homes to reduce emissions and help fuel poverty; it has little on crime and safety in our streets. Labour has a few welcome words on tackling anti-social behaviour and supporting rough sleepers but there is no description of what they would do. The newsletter makes no mention of the disgraceful rubbish on our streets.


East Oxford Matters blames the Government for cuts to bus services. It does not acknowledge that Labour is in a coalition in charge of the county and local bus subsidies. The party could be campaigning for capped fares and additional services as part of a “levelling up agenda”. But the coalition is fixated on controlling people, and public transport will be caught in the gridlock.


I will campaign for affordable capped fares that encourage bus usage and better bus services to the hospitals from our area.


The Labour newsletter mentions a desire to build 1000 council houses over the next 10 years. The reality of their past decisions to approve numerous executive housing projects and student housing (like that above Tesco’s) make this aspiration sound hollow. Labour has been in power for generations at a local level with minimal investment in social housing in our area.


The tokenistic Broad Meadow in central Oxford symbolises the decline of the party from a working-class party that wanted to help the less well off to a greenwash shadow of its former self. This ‘Meadow’ (a series of planted boxes) lasted less than 15 weeks and cost £222,500, more than £2 for each visitor.


This election may show the Labour party having its “red-wall” moment in Oxford. It has run out of policy and ideas. It is trading on the legacy of Andrew Smith, but with no roots for the future.


One thing on which we agree with East Oxford Matters: St Mary’s does indeed deserve a stronger voice. If you vote for John Skinner, you will get one.

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Notes from Your Doorstep 20/2/2022
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