The decision referred to below was referred to the full OCC cabinet on 15 February. They decided not to overrule the decision made by Cllr Enright not to extend the HGV ban. The ban has now expired and HGVs are free to resume going through Burford. There will be more on this in the March edition of The Bridge.
Oxfordshire County Council has decided not to renew the Burford weight limit (“BWL”) on HGVs driving up and down The Hill and the High Street AND Tanners Lane AND Barns Lane. Whilst discontinuing the BWL on The Hill and the High Street was within contemplation as they are part of the A361, actively permitting 44 tonners to roar through Barns Lane and Tanners Lane, the narrowest of country lanes, is beyond comprehension. It is evidence, if more is needed, of the lack of any coherent thinking on the part of the officers (i.e. OCC’s civil servants) and Duncan Enright, the OCC councillor and cabinet member for travel and development strategy to whom making the decision was delegated.
This raises a point of general principle. This decision was always going to affect the lives of thousands of people whichever way it went. Is it right that a decision of such importance should be delegated to a single person without any discussion or debate in the full OCC council and without any opportunity for the two sides to put their arguments before the body which we have actually elected to make those sorts of decisions? Of course it isn’t! It is perfectly reasonable for a local authority to devolve responsibility for minor decisions to something less than the full council but not for major issues like HGV weight limits on roads through towns and villages. It happens in West Oxfordshire District Council (“WODC” – rapidly becoming known as Witney Only District Council) where large committees of district councillors make the major decisions (like Jeremy Clarkson’s Diddly Squat and our Cole’s Field) but the small beer stuff like minor extensions and greenhouses and the odd potting shed is dealt with by the officers. And it works pretty well by and large. Quite the reverse in OCC. Matters of life and death, and that is what we can be talking about with HGVs, are put in the hands of a single person who may be supremely unqualified for the task. That must be wrong!
So what went wrong with the BWL decision specifically? I need to give you a bit of history first. When we did the deal with OCC for an 18 month trial period we agreed that there should be three traffic surveys, one at the beginning, one in the middle and one at the end. The first two were conducted using the pneumatic cable-across-the-road method provided by a company called Tracsis. It became apparent that the Tracsis method was reliable in counting the number of vehicles going over the cables but useless in categorising those vehicles into HGVs, LGVs, 2 axle, 3 axle or vans. It cannot distinguish between a 44 tonner and a rickshaw. So we further agreed with OCC that, for the third survey, Automatic Number Plate Recognition (“ANPR”) cameras would be stationed at five strategic sites including Burford (and that we would pay for the Burford one – over £5,000!). The ANPR data would be indisputable – you can see the vehicles on the screen. It was a fortunate decision because, when the results were in, there were substantial differences between the number of HGVs recorded by the Tracsis system and that recorded by the ANPR cameras. The most dramatic was at Dry Lane, Crawley where Tracsis recorded 81 three axle HGVs and the ANPR camera recorded eight – a difference of 1013%. The ANPR data strongly supports our case.
The officers delivered a 580 page report to Cllr Enright a fortnight before the decision meeting (with Christmas and New Year intervening). In it they stated in terms that they were not using the ANPR data (for which we had agreed to pay so far as Burford was concerned) because it was different “compared with the previous information” i.e. the Tracsis data. On that basis Cllr.Enright decided against us. Words fail me.
We are doing what we can to fight the decision – see Cllr Nicholas Field-Johnson’s report elsewhere – so I fear I will have to revert to this gross miscarriage of justice in future issues.
John White - Councillor
This article will also appear in the forthcoming February edition of The Bridge magazine - Editors