How the county made its choice

September 6th, 2011 by Kate Griffin Leave a reply »

Yesterday we posted about the Oxfordshire County Council’s decision to hold a public inquiry in a venue that’s hard to get to without a car. But why did the council choose Eynsham Hall and not a venue that’s actually in Witney?

The Planning Inspectorate guidelines state that the venue for a public inquiry should be “conveniently located for the majority of those wishing to attend” and “well served by public transport”. Eynsham Hall doesn’t tick either of those boxes.

We asked the county council why they didn’t choose a more local, accessible venue for the inquiry. Andrew Stone of the legal services department responded: “The Council tried to find a suitable venue for the inquiry within Witney but was unsuccessful in this.

He sent us copies of documents summarising the council’s attempts to choose a venue and justifying its choice. The public inquiry was originally scheduled for some time between April and June of this year, and the council’s original choice of venue was Witney Lakes Resort. That’s not particularly well-served by public transport either, but it is at least within Witney. However, the process dragged on and the inquiry was put back to September. Witney Lakes was not available for the new dates, so the county council went back to the drawing board.

The three new options considered by the council in May this year were Barcelo Oxford Hotel in Wolvercote, Eynsham Hall in North Leigh and the Methodist Church on the High Street.

The Barcelo Oxford Hotel was ruled out quickly on grounds of cost and distance, so it came down to a choice between Eynsham Hall and the Methodist Church. The county council’s report noted the “ideal” location of the Methodist Church and its ability to accommodate more people in the public gallery, but rejected it on the grounds that it isn’t available on Thursday afternoons and has “inferior facilities” to those at Eynsham Hall.

The report’s summary says: “Eynsham Hall is further away but has on site free car parking, is served by two bus services and should be considered as sufficiently local.” This ignores the facts:

  • The buses “serving” Eynsham Hall don’t actually go there.
  • Journey time and journey difficulty is about more than just geographical distance. A resident travelling from Thorney Leys, Deer Park or Cogges by bus could reasonably expect to spend over an hour travelling each way.
  • The bus journey involves a substantial amount of walking, which means it’s impossible for many people with disabilities.
  • Free car parking sounds good, but it’s no use at all to people who aren’t travelling by car.

The report also notes that “Most people are likely to travel to Eynsham Hall by car”, which seems to be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Residents’ campaign group Witney First have tried to persuade the county council to change its decision and book the Methodist Church. (The church has already been used for a planning inquiry once before.) But the county council hasn’t listened. They’re determined to stick with Eynsham Hall. They’re making vague noises about providing a “shuttle bus” for people attending the inquiry, but have given no details yet. Will anybody really plan to go on the strength of such vague promises? Would you trust the council enough to book the day off work?

As we mentioned in our previous post, Witney First is trying to coordinate lift-sharing among residents who want to attend the inquiry. If you can help (or if you’d like a lift), please contact Kate Griffin (griffinkate at gmail dot com).

To add insult to injury, another of the county’s stated reasons for choosing Eynsham Hall is that it has a suite which is “suitable for access by disabled visitors”. Great if you can get there in the first place, but utterly useless if you can’t. Does anybody at the county council have a clue what it’s like to live your life without a car?

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