December: Oxford's Changing Landscape

December: Oxford's Changing Landscape

The fun in the run up to Christmas last year was somewhat curtailed for a different reason as I sat in in Osney Mead in the King’s Centre a converted industrial unit, too ugly for Oxford, a single artificial Christmas tree reminding us of the festive season outside. Who could miss the irony of the surroundings, as we gathered to discuss the future of Oxford and the Local Plan in an industrial estate gradually acquired by the University, now itself promoted for redevelopment, with the fields surrounding to be dug up to hold the excess floodwater. What sensory experience was this Inspector getting, likely returning each night to an Ibis hotel surrounded by indecent stacks of paper evidence, as he sought to pass judgement on our City’s future. It was some cruel relief when he closed the hearing a couple of days short of the holiday with ‘a merry Christmas to one and all’. At least there were some earlier joys to reflect back on for 2019 with the best Oxford Open Doors yet and a record year at Oxford Castle & Prison.

I return in 2020 full of optimism. We are on site repairing and restoring the 500 year old window at our merchant’s house in Abingdon which has been worrying me for ages, and we are at last on site with the City Council at the Covered Market restoring three of the early units.

Then March happens. We put things on hold, and head home obedient, to farm, to shared flat and to as far away as Cornwall. But wherever we lay our heads Oxford is at our heart. NHS and care workers we are not but we determine from the outset to do our bit by keeping our 1000 acres of green space open to Oxford residents. We dealt with the odd pedestrian and cycle bottleneck, and some antisocial behaviour, the winner surely being the family who set up a 250ft waterslide at Boars Hill one sunny Saturday afternoon, much to the consternation of the local sheep. In the end no harm is done and it’s made up for by the lovely messages received of discovering new places, and a wave of new members which is an unexpected bonus.

With the prominence of the role open green space play to our health and wellbeing the results of the Oxford Local Plan in early Summer seem out of step, with all the greenfield sites promoted for housing at Marston, Iffley and elsewhere to be accepted. And with what speed those developments are coming forward, no letting the grass grow, heavy diggers champing at the farm gate. A feared relaxation on the heights of new buildings is also to happen, with the first test the University’s new Life & Mind building on the site of the demolished Tinbergen building in Parks Road and the biggest building ever seen at Oxford.

We need to stay positive and turn our creative thoughts to Oxford Open Doors and how to deliver it, this year by taking it ‘outside’. Our charming and knowledgeable historian friends have already provided us with a range of virtual talks, quickly taking to this new medium, and we set about writing some heritage and green spaces walks which can be enjoyed in family groups. Over the September weekend we even find a way to host some real events with thanks to the Botanic Gardens and to Magdalen College’s Home Bursar who opened the gates on the High Street and the gate at Kings Mill Lane off the Marston Road so that visitors could walk through and on to the nearby Islamic Centre who opened their stunning gardens too. Indian summer sunshine and groups of six at Christ Church Meadows and Holywell Cemetery added to the enjoyment and all told we met virtually with over 25,000 people engaging a new younger and wider audience along the way.

And in between we have also been able to complete our wonderful Heritage Book series, the boxed set of 6, the best Christmas present ever for 2020. The Covered Market restoration is all but completed ready for the new tenants in the new year and Oxford Castle & Prison is open again for business, ‘Safe to Go’ and still fun so please visit and help plug this year’s inevitable shortfall. We’ve left the walks up on our website until the New Year, two of which take you past our latest project the Rewley Road Swing bridge which is now on site, so we will be back and raring to go in January. Have a relaxing Christmas break, keep safe and see you next year in whichever way we can.

Image credit: Chris Andrews