Green Routes is a vegetarian café in which most of the menu is vegan, located on Magdalen Road, about two miles south-east of Oxford city centre (see map), in an area with traffic calming measures and 20 mph speed limits. So its name may be considered appropriate. Also on Magdalen Road are (amongst other retail and hospitality establishments) the Wild Honey wholefood shop, whose goods for sale are clearly not all vegan, though I did see vegan honea on sale; and the Magic Café, another vegetarian establishment, which on the day last month that I visited this area was unfortunately closed due to a bereavement. I have been into the Magic Café once before, well over ten years ago; at the time the only vegan selection on the menu was the soup, though the member of staff who told me wasn’t even sure of that!
Magdalen Road connects the Cowley and Iffley Roads, that converge at a large roundabout known as The Plain about half-way towards the city centre, which is itself then accessed by going over Magdalen Bridge. All the streets in the neighbourhood are mainly of Victorian and Edwardian terraced houses, many of which have been converted to shared rented accommodation, mostly but not entirely occupied by students at Brookes University, the former Polytechnic. The traffic calming measures are common to some of the streets between Magdalen Road and The Plain. They are also common to the streets on the other side of Magdalen Road, as far as Howard Street, which also connects the Cowley and Iffley Roads. There are similar traffic calming measures on the streets on the other side of the Cowley Road, which itself as a highly commercialised, hence busy pedestrian area, also has a 20 mph speed limit. The most recent A-Z (2015) shows Magdalen Road and Howard Street as one-way, but in opposite directions, Magdalen Road from Iffley to Cowley Road, Howard Street the opposite.
Such traffic calming measures are usually introduced in response to residents’ concerns about their streets being used as short-cuts, ‘rat runs’ to use the British term, between main roads. Whether this was the case or not, I don’t know. The measures could have been in response to lobbying from green or road safety campaigners. This is an area where the Green Party has long had a high degree of electoral support and is one of those areas where Britain’s ecology movement started during the 1970’s (though as detailed on a previous post, the Ecology Party itself, from which the Green Party developed, started in Coventry). The Wild Honey shop occupies premises where the Inner Bookshop used to be after it had moved from the Cowley Road. As well as selling a wide range of green and New Age literature, the Inner Bookshop was also the base of the radical publication Green Line, which was always independent of the Green Party, though broadly supportive of its aims.
It was in this particular area of Oxford, known as St Clement’s ward, that Caroline Lucas started her political career as an Oxfordshire County Councillor thirty years ago (having failed the previous year to get elected to Oxford City Council). She later became a Member of the European Parliament and is to date the Green Party’s one and only MP in the UK Parliament (for Brighton Pavillion, more than a hundred miles away on the south coast). Her late Green Party colleague, Mike Woodin, was an Oxford City Councillor, elected the following year and who became one of the Green Party’s principal spokespeople. In 2004, shortly before his death, they published a book entitled Green Alternatives to Globalisation. Although the Green Party has found Oxford to be fertile territory for winning council seats, since the early 1990’s Oxford East Parliamentary constituency has gone from being moderately to very strongly pro-Labour, Anneliese Dodds being the current MP. As she is proud of letting people know, she lives in an area of council (or ex-council) houses further up the Iffley Road, known as Rose Hill (which borders on the pleasant old villagey part of Iffley). It is in the south-eastern suburb of Cowley where most of Oxford’s heavy industry has been located, the BMW Mini works being a major employer. This factory, originally Morris Motors, later BMC and British Leyland, has long been important to the local economy. On part of the former British Leyland site, Oxford Business Park is located, an example of the new economy replacing the old. Its remit is to be a ‘science and innovation’ cluster, the businesses including Oxford Biomedica, Spy Biotech and Jazz Pharmaceuticals, all of which tie in well with proximity to the University of Oxford’s Medical Sciences Division in Headington, home of the Jenner Institute (where the Astra Zeneca ‘vaccine’ was developed).
That maybe sets into context a recent development, in that the traffic calming measures mentioned above have now been supplemented by a Low-Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) scheme introduced by Oxfordshire County Council, following a consultation with local residents, with the vast majority of those who responded being opposed to it. You could argue that people who are opposed to a new local authority project are more likely to be vociferous in their views than those who support or who are just indifferent. My guess and it is only that, is that the LTN scheme may well be tacitly supported by those (students or otherwise) living in shared rented accommodation and who cannot afford a car, whilst the opposition must be from permanent residents. Perhaps the opposition isn’t just based on the obvious reason that certain residential roads are no longer direct through routes in a motor vehicle, but a fear that it may signal the area becoming one entirely of shared rented (student) accommodation. Not surprisingly, Oxfordshire Green Party supports the LTN’s. From her personal website, on a letter that she sent last March to the Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, Anneliese Dodds supports the LTN’s in principle, but with the caveat that more money needs to be invested in local public transport. This would include the development of the Cowley branch line, that is used for freight, to also be used for passenger services. It would provide a link from Blackbird Leys and Littlemore to Oxford station and has been a topic of discussion for many years.
From Wild Honey’s website, this is their view of the issue.
East Oxford LTNs – access to Magdalen Road shop:
As a local, independent health food business, we are very much in support of cleaner, safer streets, and fewer cars, and we also understand that some people will need to come to us by car, either due to distance or for a whole range of health-related reasons.
If you need to get to Magdalen Road by car it is still very straightforward. From Cowley Road, you can drive up Magdalen Road and park just by the barrier near the Goldfish Bowl, 50 meters from us. This is also still accessible from Leopold St/St. Mary’s Road, where there is plenty of parking. From Iffley Road, access is unchanged and you can still get to us from all of the side streets off Iffley Road. There is also plenty of free parking in the streets surrounding us. Please help spread the word that vehicle access is actually largely unchanged, as the Road Closed signs have been hugely damaging for the whole community there.
We are also in the process of installing bike racks outside the shop, to make it easier for those of you shopping by bike.
However you get here, we very much forward to look forward to welcoming you back soon.
So it appears that the signs are sending out a message of ‘no access’ rather than that access is still possible, but that the County Council have failed to suggest the best routes to reach certain businesses and that the roads themselves are not actually closed but need to be accessed via different routes (in what is still an experimental scheme). Alternatively, it may be that some business owners have hyped up the effect of the LTN, thereby sending out a ‘closed for business’ message to people elsewhere. Could they have done this deliberately in order to get the LTN scrapped? For those reading this who are unfamiliar with Oxford, please note that there are five Park and Ride sites on the periphery of the city, from which frequent bus services operate to the city centre. None of these Park and Ride routes goes along the Cowley or Iffley Roads, but there are frequent bus connections in the city centre that do. It must be said that neither the traffic calming measures nor the LTN are preventing delivery vehicles (and nor should they) as I saw one in Magdalen Road from Essential Trading, a long-established wholefood retailer (run as a workers’ co-operative) based in Bristol.
My own opinion is that I think that Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods are a good idea as long as there are exemptions for disabled drivers and emergency vehicles. So if I lived that area I’d support the LTN in principle as long as these exemptions are in place, though I dare say that my opinions might well get shouted down. But then, as a vegan, I’m used to my opinions being part of a minority. Fifteen months ago on a Saturday afternoon in Oxford, I participated in a protest against the totalitarian policy of vaccine passports, where we met at Bonn Square and held a march through Queen Street and Cornmarket Street. The reaction from the shopping public was mostly indifference and in a couple of cases (no doubt fully, at the time, jabbed up) hostility. From the recent opposition to Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods. there is a certain consistency in that it appears that Oxford residents like to pollute their local neighbourhoods, just as they like to pollute their own bodies; and in each case believe that others should be subject to the same toxic chemicals.
Since the 1970’s, most new housing developments have been Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods by default with one main access road feeding a number of cul-de-sacs before the main access road itself becomes a cul-de-sac or maybe loops back upon itself (such as Boundary Brook Road, just off Iffley Road south of Howard Street). So these modern developments are not short-cuts between main roads. As such the streets are generally safer for children playing. I accept however that LTN’s may not be appropriate everywhere. Note that in Oxford, an LTN has now also been introduced in Temple Cowley, which from Magdalen Road is at least three-quarters of a mile away in the direction away from the city centre. This has been introduced to stop people using it as a short-cut between Oxford Road, Cowley (the continuation of the Cowley Road) and Hollow Way, the main road in the direction of Headington. For the LTN’s in both areas, it would probably have been less contentious to make all the relevant streets one-way only for all traffic, with no exemptions for bicycles, lest any motorists think that cyclists are being given preferential treatment. Given the number of parked cars on each side of these roads, the usable road space is in many cases not wide enough for two motor vehicles to pass each other. From some of the opposition voiced on Twitter to the LTN’s it is the appearance of the barriers that is angering some people more than their function, whereas motorists are well-used to one-way streets and no entry signs for any drivers attempting to go contrary to the traffic flow.
A separate traffic management issue that is due to be implemented in Oxford, by the County Council (and to be implemented in Bath and Canterbury amongst other cities), is that of dividing the city into separate permitted-zones for private motor vehicles, between which only a limited number of journeys, currently set at one hundred per year, will be allowed. I disagree with this, although I understand that the reason is to reduce the number of cross-city journeys by requesting in Oxford’s case that residents use the ring-road instead. The problem is that many people’s journeys will become considerably longer (far more so than an LTN may result in) and the Oxford ring-road is already congested at peak times, the western part of it being part of the A34, a long-established important route between the Midlands and a few of the major south-coast ports. People who are opposed to both Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods and the city-wide zoning are deliberately treating them as the same thing, when they are not. But in the tribal world of social media a nuanced distinction between the two isn’t allowed.
Returning to the first paragraph, there is incidentally another Wild Honey shop, under the same ownership, in Little Clarendon Street, between the city centre and Jericho, another area with a high proportion of shared rented Victorian terraced houses, lived in not surprisingly to a large degree by students. If you are walking into town from Magdalen Road en route to Jericho, or as I was, back to the rail station (itself not far from Jericho), then you’ll notice a sign for a Zero Emission Zone, the first such in the country. In principle all streets should be Zero Emission Zones, as we all have the right to breathe in air that is uncontaminated by toxic pollutants, just as we have the right to drink water that is similarly free from toxic pollutants, to consume organic food free from chemical pesticides and to use natural medicines that are free from toxic pharmaceuticals. The agenda behind Zero (and Low) Emission Zones is however a rather dubious ‘green transition’ to electric vehicles, in which the environmental damage takes place upon mining the materials for the batteries; and bear in mind that even if such a battery is charged entirely by renewable sources, there is an environmental cost in their manufacture. Motorists who can’t afford to buy an electric vehicle, but whose journey necessitates travelling along Oxford’s High Street (which is part of the A420) for example, will end up paying a fine, leading to suspicions that perhaps the real agenda is a revenue collection scheme.
It should not be forgotten though that a previous generation of urban planners, elected councillors and unelected council officials alike, encouraged car use, not surprisingly in Oxford, given the economic dependence on the motor industry that it has had for more than a century. Along the south-eastern stretch of the ring-road there is a Sainsbury’s superstore that opened in 1986. In Cowley, on the site of the former Grove Cranes factory, is the more recent development of Templars Shopping Park; and Oxford Business Park in Cowley, as mentioned above, is on a site adjacent to the ring-road. Such out-of-town superstores, retail parks and business parks, all designed to be primarily accessible by car, have been part of a national trend. Most people under the age of about forty have grown up in that car-oriented culture. So when the current generation of elected councillors and unelected council officials, with their new found environmental zeal, adopt superior airs, perhaps they should eat a bit of humble pie on behalf of their predecessors. One particularly infamous proposal more than eighty years ago was for a road through Christ Church Meadow to divert traffic away from the High Street where the Zero Emission Zone has recently been implemented. This excellent article from the Christ Church Cathedral website highlights the difficulties in trying to preserve a historic city centre alongside the increasing traffic growth associated with an industrialising and expanding city.
Whilst ‘climate change’ is invoked as the reason behind the current ‘green transition’ and genuine green measures to encourage people to cycle, walk or use public transport in preference to driving, the bigger picture is resource depletion, in particular that Britain has long-since lost its self-sufficiency in oil. When Britain was self-sufficient in oil during the 1980’s and even a net exporter, the Thatcher government sold the state’s remaining shares in British Petroleum. This, like the privatisations before and afterwards, provided a short-term injection of revenue to be used for tax cuts at the expense of longer-term revenues that could have been invested in the transport infrastructure. Even discounting the geological and environmental damage that would be caused by fracking for shale oil, it can never replace in quantity or quality the Brent Crude from the North Sea; and the energy expended per barrel recovered to extract that shale oil would be greater. So any paranoid rambling you may hear that ‘They don’t want us driving cars’ is missing the point entirely. Where exactly is the fuel going to come from to do so? The obvious answer would be more neo-imperialist wars like ‘Operation Iraqi Liberation’, for which about a million people (myself included) protested against in London exactly twenty years ago to the day. And how was that war and subsequent military actions in the Middle East, Afghanistan and now Ukraine paid for? The taxes have to come from somewhere and fuel duty is the most obvious source.
Energy Beyond Oil – Paul Mobbs, Troubador Publishing, Leicester, England, 2005. This is a very informative book on energy resources, albeit now somewhat out of date, written by an environmental campaigner in Banbury, though I don’t share his apocalyptic view of climate change. In Box 28, p152, of the book, he calculated that shifting the majority of car use to public transport wouldn’t make enough of an energy saving to overcome the problem of Peak Oil. The problem with that message is that it deters motorists from even considering travelling by public transport instead. Rather, it just sends out a message of do not travel at all, something which for the vast majority of people simply isn’t possible, not least the numerous people who regularly commute by train the twenty-two miles from Banbury to Oxford, because housing costs in Oxford are considerably more expensive.