Flooded students are feeling abandoned by the council after claims they were refusing to distribute sandbags unless lives were in “lethal danger”.
The flooding was so severe that council workers operating a pumping system near Abingdon Road stopped the system for just half an hour and caused over 200 houses to go onto “red alert”.
Mehrunissa Sajjad, a third year at Merton who was staying at a house off Abingdon Road, was flooded last week.
“The Oxford City Council was totally useless when contacted, and said we shouldn’t ask for sandbags unless our lives were in ‘lethal danger’,” she said. Council officials said that there was no provision for delivery of sandbags, except for a limited number of elderly or disabled people. Despite the advertised depots being at least 25 minutes walk from the city centre, there was no reasonable means by which students without cars could retrieve the heavy bags to protect their houses from the floods.
Wadham second year Joe Miles said of his house: “the basement is like a swimming pool. There are three to six inches of water down there. The landlords have been very good, they’re covering all the damage, but I’m surprised that the council didn’t bother to deliver sandbags”.
In a call to the City Council in the afternoon of Friday 10th, an OxStu reporter – posing as a student in a flood-hit area – was advised by a council employee to use a bicycle basket or trolley to transport sandbags. This was despite their heavy weight and the need to take several bags to adequately protect a house.
When asked what to do if a house should flood before sandbags could be acquired, the council employee replied that there was not much that could be done as “most of our efforts are diverted at the minute to getting the sandbags to the locations to be collected”.
The Council official assured the reporter that they would call back and provide more information and assistance shortly. The Oxford Student provided contact details, but was not further contacted by the council.
The Duke of Monmouth pub on Abingdon Road has been acting as a sandbag depot over the past week. On Sunday, the bags supplied by the council had not been protected from the rain, and were subsequently ripped and waterlogged, with some weighing over 20 kilograms each. Although the manager of the pub said that most of these bags had been used and returned, a council official confirmed that they were the only ones available at the time.
A spokesman for Oxford City Council said: “There have been numerous deliveries of sandbags to the Duke of Monmouth public house on the Abingdon Road and we have had sand and bags available at Redbridge Park & Ride.
“Sandbags were made available from Saturday 4 January. We have responded to every single request for sandbags and we have proactively been delivering to areas we believed could be vulnerable.
“Officers were working 24 hours a day to help deal with the ever changing situation.”
Open spaces across the city are still flooded, with the area under Magdalen Bridge and next to Magdalen College’s Waynflete Building badly hit. The Abingdon Road area – which contains numerous student houses and the accommodation annexes of various colleges including Hertford – suffered from severe flooding.
Laura Martin, who lives on Western Road, commented that her house has been badly awffected by floods: “The carpets are ruined, and the basement is flooded due to the poor quality of the house – we’re in a flood zone but there was no waterproofing in the basement. I get the feeling this is a recurring problem.”
The Abingdon Road area – which contains numerous student houses and the accommodation annexes of various colleges including Hertford – suffered from severe flooding. A part of Abingdon Road proper was officially closed at the weekend (except to residents) as many students returned to Oxford after the vacation.
A subcontractor from Drayton Construction, who was working at the scene, said that he suspected some drivers were falsely claiming to be residents in order to get past. Alarmed local residents pointed out that cracks were appearing around the many of the drains in the area due to the pressure of the excess water.
Magdalen College grounds also flooded this week, leading to concerned reactions from students. “Riverside of the Waynflete now looks more like Swampside,” said Alice Theobald, a first-year English student at the college.
“The flooding next to Magdalen is pretty extensive but at least I can save money on my holiday to Venice,” added Toby Gill, a first-year History student.
Mark Blandford-Baker, the college’s Home Bursar, confirmed that “the water meadow flooded as intended and as usual in such conditions”.
Oxford could become one of the greenest cities in the UK if its bid to limit buses’ nitrogen oxide emissions is approved by the government.
The County Council have applied to the government to set a limit on nitrogen dioxide produced by buses at two grams of nitrogen oxide per kilowatt-hour, the strictest legal cap currently available within the Eurozone.
It is the first time any local authority in Britain has applied for such a strict emissions cap, and it is part of a bid in cooperation with Oxford City Council to turn Oxford into a Low Emissions Zone (LEZ).
Since 2009, investment in more environmentally friendly buses in Oxford has seen an approximate drop of 60 percent in emissions from new vehicles, but many older buses without this reduction remain in use in and around the city. If approved, the regulations mean that buses which do not meet the standard will have to be entirely replaced or fitted with exhaust treatment devices, and any bus remaining stationary for more than one minute at a bus stop would have to have its engine turned off.
In addition, the City Council is looking at making the rules apply to taxis and licensed private hire vehicles as well if they are approved for buses.
A spokesman for the Oxford Bus Company welcomed the news, saying that “over 85 percent” of their buses already comply with Euro 5 regulations and that they “expect the entire fleet to be upgraded to this standard well ahead of any deadline the government may set as a result of the Council’s application”.
He continued: “For between ten and fifteen years now the company has been investing in green technology, and it’s been standard practice to turn off engines at bus stops for a long time now anyway. We have set the template for the LEZ and far from fearing the Council’s application, we welcome it, although we believe it should apply to all vehicles with an internal combustion engine within the LEZ.”
He also pointed out the contributions made to Oxford by the bus operators, saying: “Over 50 percent of all people in the city centre get there by bus. The bus network is therefore an integral part of Oxford’s economy.”
Student reaction was also positive, with St Catz engineer and cyclist Erk Angpanitcharoen commenting: “It will be particularly beneficial for people using the slip stream as they will be able to cycle behind any bus with minimal emission intake.”
The City Council’s cabinet member for transport declined to comment.
OUSU Environment & Ethics Chair Natalie Haley added: “This is a great step in improving air quality in the city; especially as so much of the air pollution in the city centre is due to buses. Hopefully similar caps will be set in other parts of the country following Oxford’s example. Oxford already has many hybrid and other forms of ‘greener’ buses and this would ensure buses which did not already meet these standards were brought up to the bar.”
Oxford City Council has outlined plans to exercise its new powers over sex shops and lap dancing clubs by capping their number.
At a council meeting on Wednesday night councillors debated whether to kick-start a consultation process, which would culminate with a final decision in April 2012. The policy document recommended the committee “consider whether or not to set a limit on the “appropriate” number of sex establishments”.
The council last year used its powers to move Thirst Lodge from behind the Westgate shopping centre because it was deemed too close to shops, churches and tourist attractions. The lap dancing club, however, reopened at the former Coven nightclub on Oxpens Road.
Previously, the council only had the power to refuse licenses based on location. The new laws recently inherited mean they can now refuse licenses based on there being too many sex establishments in the city.
Labour council leader Bob Price backed a cap and told the Oxford Mail: “If you took it to the limit, you would have a city centre that looked a bit like the Reeperbahn in Hamburg and Soho.
“It would not be the kind of Oxford that would be particularly attractive to tourists, maybe not all tourists, but not the right type.”
However, the council’s policy document states: “The council is not permitted to take a moral stand with regard to licensing sex establishments”. Consequently, second year law student Charlotte Tarr was left bemused by the policy: “There are already so many rules on what sex shops can display, I don’t see any reason why they need to be capped. It’s discriminatory, and I can’t see any justification.”
She continued: “It is foolish to think that in the 21st Century people don’t go into these shops- there is demand for these establishments. Simply capping them doesn’t get to the root of the problem- instead, it creates a dangerous environment where sex becomes a taboo subject.”
Tarr concluded: “It is an outrage.” While Pembroke student Hamish Smith concurred, describing the council’s moves as a “disgrace”, second year Wadham student James Sadler emphasized that such a cap would be “obviously tragic for the local economy”.
Nevertheless, English student Alex Fisher described the changes as “a good thing”: “sex establishments are generally negatively viewed- capping them can only result in Oxford having a cleaner reputation”.
St Ebbe’s Church was “relieved” when Thirst Lodge was moved from next to their building earlier this year and has campaigned against sex establishments in the past. However, the church declined to comment on the council’s latest decision.
At present, the council has not specified what number of establishments it has in mind to cap. The term “sex establishments” officially applies to sex shops, sex cinemas and sexual entertainment venues.
Funding cuts have left Oxford charities fearing for their future after the City Council slashed funds by £250,000.
Some charities, including the Community Soup Kitchen, have lost all council funding.
The Archway Foundation, which relieves distress caused by loneliness, has lost a £25,000 contract from the Oxfordshire Primary Care Trust and a £5000 grant from the City Council. Their former annual budget was £75,000. University students have volunteered at Archway in the past.
A spokeswoman for the charity, with over 100 volunteers, said: “These cuts bring into question our long-term sustainability. In the meantime we have to concentrate on our existing users at the expense of reaching out to potential beneficiaries.” She felt chief responsibility lied with the Treasury rather than the Council.
One user of their services said: “If Archway ceases to exist I am pretty sure that I and many others will quickly go the same way.”
However, a spokesperson for Oxfordshire Primary Care Trust (PCT) said: “We had a lengthy consultation process which decided that the best way to improve the wellbeing of mental health patients was via different services to what Archway were providing. We didn’t just cut their funding.”
The PCT encouraged Archway to merge with a bigger organisation but they chose not to tender for services after their contract expired on 7th March.
But the spokesperson confirmed the overall budget for the services, jointly allocated between the PCT and the County Council, had reduced between 2009 and 2011, although savings were “reinvested into the health service.”
Other charities affected by the City Council cuts include Donnington Doorstep Family Centre, which lost 50 percent of its grants. Oxfordshire Theatre Company, which provides entertainment to those without access to professional shows, lost 71.3 percent of its funding while the Oxford Playhouse lost £27,015 (52.3 percent). Oxfordshire Chinese Community Centre lost £31,703 of its previous £49,703.
Wadham Charities Officer Beth Hardwick described the cuts as “absolutely bizarre” and added: “When Oxford has one of the largest council estates in Europe, and similarly high figures of residents living under the poverty line or on the streets, it hardly seems embracing of the ‘big society ideal’ with enhanced social mobility to remove help from those most in need.”
Councillor Antonia Bance, a board member of Oxfordshire Stronger Communities, admitted the City Council will reduce spending over the next four years by £10m but has found enough money to increase the budget for housing advice, “which has helped mitigate some of the worst effects of the recession.”
Oxfordshire County Council, which is under Conservative rule, has announced a net increase of £327,000 in voluntary funding after allocating £600,000 to a Big Society Fund. This is in a similar vein as the Coalition’s £600m pot announced earlier this month. Funding cuts from central government mean that the County Council has seen a 1.9 percent drop in its spending power. The decrease for the City Council was 6.7 percent.
Bance continued: “This is not what any of us would have done given a choice but due to Central Government funding cuts we have had to significantly reduce our expenditure. We are proud of our strong record on assisting voluntary and community groups through our grants process and we are pleased that we are still able to help fund so many good causes in Oxford.”
The city has denied Tesco an alcohol license for a planned new store on St Aldate’s over concerns that alcohol sales would damage the efforts of a nearby homeless shelter.
City councillors said university authorities and local police were worried that a close source of alcohol would fuel crime and destructive behaviour in a neighbourhood “well known for crime and homelessness” and frequented by students.
A Tesco spokeswoman said the company is still “considering [its] options” on the St Aldate’s location. The national supermarket chain has also applied for an alcohol license for a new store elsewhere in central Oxford, with a decision expected on that application by the end of the month.
City councillor David William chaired the panel which decided last Thursday to refuse Tesco a license to sell alcohol until 11 PM at the former location of the Solus Lighting Shop.
William said access to alcohol in that location would “damage a whole series of rehabilitation services nearby”. Many residents of the shelter for the homeless close-by have problems with alcohol, he said, adding that Cambridge Terrace, close to the location, was “well known for crime”.
He pointed out that a fortnight ago an alcoholic drowned under Folly Bridge, which is just 25 yards away.
William also said the council took into account the objections of workers at Christ Church college, who were concerned about members of the public taking alcohol from the planned Tesco to drink in Christ Church meadows, and of local police, who were worried about the area’s perennial problem of street drinking.
Tom Middlehurst, a student at Christ Church, which is on St. Aldate’s, said that blocking Tesco’s alcohol license would not solve this problem.
“This could have been a way for students to get alcohol and drink responsibly, but they’ve been denied it,” Middlehurst said.
Worcester student Michael Brennan said: “I think it’s encouraging that Oxford Council are concerned with the levels of street drinking.”
But he pointed out that with Sainsbury’s in Westgate open until 8 PM, and Sainsbury’s Local and the Co-op until 11 PM, “The late night alcohol run is already tailored to”.
Councillor William said that in their pitch Tesco offered to minimise the effects of having an alcohol license by training staff and not selling individual cans. Laurence Baxter, another city councillor on the panel, said the company also offered to reduce the hours during which they would sell alcohol.
William acknowledged that “one more [place to buy alcohol] wouldn’t make a difference . . . But various institutions felt that it would be a problem in that location”.
Tesco now have the option of appealing the council’s decision and taking the matter to the Magistrate’s court. Tesco’s spokeswoman for smaller stores Melanie Chiswell did not confirm whether Tesco would go ahead with opening the store. She said: “We are considering our options”.
Tesco have also bought the now vacant Borders on Magdalen Street, where there is already a Sainsbury’s Local. Oxford City Council Licensing Manager Julian Alison confirmed that Tesco have applied for permission to sell alcohol at that location every day, with a decision due by 22 June.
Michael May lives in Worcester accommodation on Beaumont Street, around the corner from the proposed Tesco store. He welcomed the planned store, saying: “Sainsbury’s have had a monopoly in the town centre for far too long”.
But student Giles Shaw, who will live in Beaumont Street next year, said that while a new Tesco might mean lower prices he was worried about Tesco taking over local market share.
Tesco currently owns more than 2,000 stores in the United Kingdom, employing more than 285,000 people and recording £41.5bn worth of UK sales in 2009. In Oxford alone Tesco has two stores, based in Cowley and Summertown.
Students claim they were denied the right to protest at a lecture given by former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
They say security personnel paid for by the Oxford International Relations Society seized protest leaflets from students who were entering Oxford Town Hall to attend last Friday’s lecture, hosted by IR Soc.
But IR Soc officials have conflicting reports over whether this occurred.
The Society also pre-screened the questions students asked Musharraf after his speech.
Isaac Turner, a DPhil candidate at Wolfson College who attended the lecture, said security guards confiscated a leaflet from him.
“I was folding the leaflet and there was this security guy who saw me putting it into my pocket and took it off me. The pieces of paper with tickets on them were allowed, though,” Turner said.
Turner said he felt insulted by the security guard’s actions.
“Being searched for dissenting pieces of paper before entering a talk is ridiculous. It’s really an insult to the idea of debate that the IR Society is supposed to encourage,” Turner said.
The confiscated posters contained quotes from Musharraf and a list of dates when the former president arrested Pakistani judges. An unidentified individual distributed the posters in front of Town Hall.
A spokesperson for Oxford City Council said Town Hall management asked the security guards to take the leaflets away from students. They said the security paid for by IR Society “were there to manage people” and they removed the leaflets from students because “they opposed Musharraf’s visit.”
IR Society’s leadership gave conflicting accounts of the authorities’ actions.
IR Soc President Kanishka Narayan said security was justified in stopping students from bringing in what he called “propaganda” leaflets, which could have caused “disruptions” in the lecture.
“The security warnings that we sent said all you were allowed to bring into the event was your Bod card and your confirmation ticket, so [students] would not have been allowed any propaganda or any other things like bags, etc,” Narayan said.
IR Soc President-elect Chris Sykes told a different story, saying he “didn’t hear and can’t imagine” protest material being taken away from students at the lecture.
“It wouldn’t be the Society’s policy to allow that to happen. We are an Oxford Society in the Western world, and we promote free speech,” Sykes said.
Students who attended the lecture also complained about the pre-screening of questions that students asked Musharraf.
IR Soc Secretary Jan Indracek said: “There seems to be some controversy about pre-screening of questions.
“We basically did this for two reasons: one is that President Musharraf announced he would be returning to Pakistan quite soon and there were some topics on which he basically could not comment, and we wanted to avoid President Musharraf having to turn them down.
“We also wanted to cover a wide range of issues and wanted to give him the most interesting and challenging questions.”
Sykes, the President-elect, referred criticisms of the question screening to Narayan, the current President, saying, “He had an idea of how he wanted to run it and what he wanted to accept. I had no involvement.”
One person stood up and asked a different question from the one he had submitted and started heckling Musharraf. Security guards took the individual away.
Narayan said IR Soc’s committee had aimed to prevent any disruptions at the lecture, commenting that the recent heckling of the Israeli President and Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister at Oxford lectures was “pretty embarrassing and pretty awful”.
CORRECTION, 8:03 PM 10/6/10: The IR Soc’s President-Elect is Chris Sykes.