Before returning to Leicester, I went to see a public consultation in Oxford about post-Coronavirus transport changes. The consultation was held in a converted shop on Ship Street. Inside there were various plans and illustrations on the walls, and members of the public were invited to come in and write what they thought on sticky notes.
The participatory method here looks like it’s inspired from an earlier consultation around changes to Cowley Road in 2004. Much like today, a converted shop was opened to display the plans, and people could give their view directly. Cowley Road still has some fairly treacherous sections, although I don’t remember how bad it was, by some accounts it used to be the ‘most dangerous urban road in Oxfordshire.’
I’ve also seen the council run similar pop-up planning consultations in Oxford Central Library. I admire this form of consultation, it has a feeling of real democratic engagement about it. Also I fully approve of reclaiming empty shops for civic purposes. The building on Ship Street used to be occupied by a fancy shoe store, and really we have enough of those already.
Tom Hayes (deputy leader of Oxford City Council) talked about why we need to ‘build back better’. I campaigned for Tom the first time he was running for election as a city councillor.
I wrote some supportive comments on a sticky note, and took one of the leaflets.
The ideas presented are exciting, they show all the right things: bus gates, pedestrian zones, low-traffic neighbourhoods, ample cycle parking, more green space. More space for people, less space for cars.
There were repeated attempts through the 20th Century to divert traffic from the city centre by closing Magdalen Bridge, and they make for an interesting history. The idea was raised in 1957, along with an intention to bypass the centre by building an urban motorway through Christ Church Meadow. Throughout the 1960s the bypass plans were defeated by popular opposition, and the decision was delayed until Marston Ferry Road had been completed (in 1971). Then, the closure of the bridge was mentioned again as part of a proposed experiment around 1975. It’s something I want to investigate more in future.
These new plans are promoted by a national ‘building back better’ campaign, which in turn seems to have a good relationship with the City Council. I often get the feeling that efforts to push for a more cycle-friendly city are basically pushing against an open door; Craig Simmons (the current mayor) is outwardly encouraging. At the moment it’s a bold and ambitious vision, I hope it makes it to reality. The political context is that the City Council is held by Labour, whereas the County Council has a slim Tory minority, and the County Council has authority over these changes.
There’s still a day left before the public consultation ends. If you haven’t done so already, go fill it out!