WHERE HAS ALL THE MONEY GONE?
Hello residents of Bicester Garden Eco Healthy Town! Yes, remember those heady days of 2014 when Bicester was confirmed by former deputy PM Nick Clegg as Britain’s first ‘Garden Town’? Oh and before that, remember when we were EcoBicester and then later we became Bicester Healthy Town where by painting coloured lines on pavements magically made us all healthier and helped distract from growing lines to see an actual GP. Mad wasn’t it?
Such announcements were supposed to transform Bicester into a modern, attractive place to live with green open spaces but in reality, any empty space including sites of national bio-diversity and longstanding playing fields are greedily eyed by developers looking to make a fast buck. All whilst the air we breathe worsens. In fact if you read Cherwell District Council’s material, you would be hard pressed to define what their garden town vision actually means.
Well the maddest part of it was that there was supposedly lots of money attached to these schemes. Take the £19m for the Garden Town. Some suggested that this could be as much as £100m. Then the myopic mandarins of Bodicote House, realised that the money they thought they had been awarded was in fact only an opportunity to apply for a loan.
So four years on, we were fascinated to ask Cherwell District Council how they were spending the money they had been loaned for these projects. We wrote to 16 local councillors, representing all three councils, to ask four easy questions including; how much has been allocated and what are the conditions attached. Simple you would think? The quality of replies we received were appalling. In summary;
- Barry Wood, CDC Leader – no reply
- Les Sibley, Mayor of Bicester – no reply
- Lynn Pratt, CDC Lead Member for Estates and the Economy – no reply*
- Richard Mould, CDC Lead Member for Performance Management – no reply*
* - Indicates that email was opened by recipient.
We did receive three replies. One from Lawrie and Rose Stratford simply said they were no longer CDC Councillors. Disappointing given that they were both supposed to be representing Bicester for much of this period. Let us hope that Lawrie’s work at Oxfordshire County Council is more diligent. Nicholas Mawer who despite sitting on Cherwell’s Accounts, Audit and Risk Committee and chairs the Budget Planning Committee was unable to provide any information and told us that he had referred it to a council officer. No response has been received. Mr Mawer is up for re-election. Finally, Michael Waine gave the most complete answer but as he sits on Oxfordshire County Council his reply was vague and lacked any measurable detail.
Unfortunately, despite living in the information age, it is very difficult to find out what Cherwell District Council have actually spent and where it came from. By employing rouses such as quango development corporations, your council has created a subterfuge that the Democratic People's Republic of [North] Korea might be proud of. We can only tell you that less than £2m has been spent. This has been frittered on consultants and report writing. Nothing else, just paper and ink. From what we know from other reports Cherwell have commissioned, they simply ignore them.
So four years on, Bicester has potentially missed out on massive investment to support the town’s growth and new infrastructure. We have been sold a ‘pup’ by those who are supposed to represent us. Or the people at the top are not up to the roles they have been elected to do. Please vote in the forthcoming local elections, vote for someone new who is willing to ask the hard questions.