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Visit of Richard Dudding




Richard Dudding Director for Environment & Economy in Oxfordshire was shown around town by County Councillor Rob Evans on Friday. He took time out to have lunch at Chequers with a group of town representatives (the usual suspects) ...and just in case anyone sees this as some kind of local government "freebie", everyone present paid 9 for the privilege of meeting the official. ("Paying for Access" - as they say in the PR business - comes to Chippy!)

Two issues dominated the discussion - Traffic and the Parker Knoll site. Mr Dudding didn't seem to hold out much hope on the Traffic issue. The one general certainty about traffic in the county was that things would get worse. We shouldn't get our expectations up.

The representative of the Chipping Norton Society said that if people wanted to shop in supermarkets they had to accept the big lorries that go with them (Pardon). The A44A Group of which the Mayor is a keen supporter is lobbying for the signing of an alternative route to Evesham from Oxford via the A40. They have been talking to lorry drivers who seem to be saying that they don't really want to use the A44 because they get set upon and their lorries are robbed on laybys out in the country. They would use the A40 instead if there was a nice secure truck stop somewhere around Northleach. So the A44A group is now lobbying for a truck stop on the A40. The Police Sergeant gently pointed out that most lorry crime happened at truck stops.....in a memorable exchange she said "Just think about it, if you want to rob a lorry you go where you know you will find lots of lorries. You don't go round remote countryside places hunting for one." (She didn't mention that truck stops are also notoriously centres of smuggling, drug dealing and prostitution and any town fights like mad to stop one being put close by. I certainly can't see Northleach buying it. This idea won't fly and the A44A group have found a lost cause which is a waste of campaigning energy).

Mr Dudding did not seem well-briefed on the Horsefair Pollution issue (it's the most polluted place in West Oxfordshire). If the measurements turn out as bad next year (and they probably will) then the District and County will be required by statute to formulate a plan to alleviate the situation - or we can sue them. This would presumably have to involve the diversion of HGV's. Did the County have a plan (Apparently they didn't) Wouldn't it make sense - even as a contingency - to do a proper survey and assessment of the Cross Hands - Rollright Stones alternative route Councillor Evans thought it might. Mr Dudding didn't commit himself.

Your Editor suggested that perhaps the County Council simply wasn't understanding the really strong feelings on this issue in the town. The next step - if all this talking just carried on with zero result - might well be some kind of Direct Action. He would personally be prepared to join in a protest designed to disrupt the traffic. For this he got a steely look from the Police Sergeant and you could almost hear the cell doors slamming shut.

The discussion then moved on to Parker Knoll. The discussion was really interesting but little that was new emerged. This is primarily a District matter and clearly an area where County officers tread warily. The pressure to develop industrial land comes from the very high prices in the residential property market. The only Planning way to counter this was to introduce onerous conditions which lowered the development value. 

A few things to note....Mr Dudding let slip that the County were in direct discussion with Parker Knoll but he couldn't talk about it. (Not to worry Richard. We are used to being kept in the dark about anything that matters). The Mayor said that she didn't think the Parker Knoll proposal was too bad - provided there was more allocation of land for jobs (which came as a bit of a surprise to several Town Councillors who thought the council were protesting against any change of use). But things move on and Turney's are now applying to develop their industrial site at Station Yard for housing. The battle is truly joined.

One really interesting idea was proposed. That a "themed" industrial and retail park should be developed around the existing showroom based on the furniture and textile history of the town, and building on the success of a number of custom-built furniture companies in and around the town. Street had faced a similar situation when its shoe factory had closed and they had pursued a similar strategy. Such a development would draw on the existing skills base in the town - including those made redundant. It would provide a focus for re-training. Chipping Norton was geographically well-placed to attract city dwellers out into the country to select their hand-built kitchen. Craftsmanship quality was of growing attractiveness to a significant proportion of the population. But some people thought that furniture was part of our history - along with Tweed, Iron Foundries and Brewing. They would much prefer a technology focus, which seemed to be more in keeping with young people's aspirations.

However, it was generally acknowledged that none of this kind of thinking would even reach the drawing board unless the District took a firm line on change of use. If they did, the proposal would go to appeal. With the new SE Regional emphasis on brownfield sites being used for housing, there was no certainty the Ditsrict would win. It might be better to try and do a deal and avoid an appeals process. And so the argument goes round.

Broadband came next. How to exploit it David Dawson (who organised the very successful Broadband Campaign earlier this year) explained how with access to the OCC network and an aerial on top of the Fire Station, Chippy could become the first WIRELESS COMMUNITY in the UK within a few months. Some exciting positive news at last. Mr Dudding didn't actually commit to the necessary co-operation but the meeting got carried away with enthusiasm for the idea - mainly because they didn't really understand it but it sounded very innovative. In practice it would probably mean two things. You could take your laptop around town and stay online (I'll reply to your e-mail when I get to the Blue Boar!) Or you could send the kids upstairs to download music on their own computer (provided you've bought them a wireless card) while you carry on with your Interactive Open University Course on the ASDL line. But like with all new things people find their own applications and this would be leading edge stuff alright. Lets have a go! This would be a terrific way of celebrating the 800th anniversary of our Market charter.

Note from the Editor: These aren't meant to be minutes. Just for clarity -  the Italics represent the most blatant examples in this piece of opinionated editorial commentary. You will find others.