Update 15 September 2023
Please see the “Background” section before for what is proposed and what the concerns about this seem to be.
The consultation has now closed but a recent development suggests that it may need to be re-opened. Abingdon Taxis contacted Oxfordshire CC on 15 September and pointed out the following:
“I would like to register my objection to the proposed changes in the Wantage market place. New evidence has come to light, after consulting with the National Taxi Association and their legal team. It has been noted that the Oxfordshire County Council and the Wantage town council, have failed under the 1976 miscellaneous provisions act section 63 and 70. in which they are obliged to consult with the V.O.T.W.H Licensing Department and failed in their obligation to do so or consult with the trade for the removal of three taxi rank spaces.
“The licensing and or Wantage Town and County should have notified the trade directly. The taxi drivers/ companies pay for the privilege to park on and work from these spaces. I would therefore request that you extend the consultation period so the councils can consult with all parties involved.”
If this is indeed the case then one can legitimately ask if there are any other organisations who should have been consulted with and weren’t.
There are plans afoot to make further changes to the traffic arrangements at the west end of Wantage’s Market Square. This all seems to have got far more complex and divisive than it might have done and I must confess to finding it all a bit confusing. There seem to be several issues here.
First, what is proposed?
The main changes were (as I mentioned last week) summarised by the OCC officer in charge of the scheme as being as follows:
- driving into/through the closed area will continue to be prohibited within Market Place,
- the 30-minute time limited parking places on the west side of Alfred Street and the southern side of Market Square will be removed,
- the motorcycle parking places on the west side of Alfred Street will be removed,
- the two existing disabled persons’ parking places on the south side of Market Square will be relocated further eastwards, adjacent to the new proposed ‘horse-shoe’ carriageway alignment, and
- the taxi rank located on the north side of Market Square will be relocated further eastwards to sit adjacent to the new proposed ‘horse-shoe’ arrangement, and shortened slightly, with two spaces at the southwest end to be `shared use` ie to allow general loading from 5am to 10am and from 2.30pm to 4pm all days (one hour stay, no return within one hour) and for taxis outside of these times.
In so far as I understand these, the one that seems most problematic is the shared-use aspect in (e). How is that going to work? This could lead to a bit of road rage.
In addition, one local business owner, Rob Corlett of thew Dolphin Gallery, has written to Wantage Town Council (WTC) to question “your plans to increase the size of the pedestrianised area by a further 12 x 10 metres and the implications it has on our business operations.”
Second, why is this happening?
The changes that were experimented with during the pandemic were only recently made permanent. Why the tweaks now? One local business owner said that currently “the area works for all of the businesses. It should be left as it is if there is no advantage to anybody” by changing it.
However, this need for change seems to have at least as much to do with national laws, or so it’s suggested. WTC’s Town Clerk told Penny Post (and others) on 6 September that “The eastward movement of the boundary line between the realigned taxi rank and the closed area has more to do with the obligation to meet highway rules and regulations in the proposed taxi rank area, rather than any desire to increase the closed area.
“The proposed scheme has been developed by consultants on behalf of the Town Council in liaison with County Council officers to meet national rules and guidelines, particularly with regard to safety. The scheme proposed was the best the consultants could come up with given the physical restrictions in that area.”
I remain confused as to whether the increase in the pedestrianised area is a clear objective or the plan or just a consequence of it. Also, the above response would seem to suggest that, as another local business, CSW Creations pointed out, the barriers “have been illegally set in position for two years.” This point was echoed by others.
I don’t find this particularly clear. It seems others don’t either. One person to whom I spoke said that two WTC members with whom they discussed it weren’t able to answer several questions. Rob Corlett said that an Oxfordshire CC Highways Officer gave “a completely different explanation” from that offered by WTC as to the reason/s for changing the taxi ranks. This leads to the third question…
Was there adequate information, discussion or consultation?
From all the business owners I’ve spoken to, the answer is a resounding “no”.
Carrie and Simon from CSW told me that “at no point during this process, have any of the businesses been involved in the consultation period or even been notified of its happening.” Rob Corlett said that “there has been no WTC-led discussion with any of these businesses.”
The Wantage Chamber of Commerce agreed. “There has been no discussion with local businesses in drafting these plans,” a statement sent to Penny Post on 6 September stated. “The Chamber wants to avoid any detrimental impacts to retailers, taxis, hospitality, emergency services and transportation providers in the area. As representatives of the business community, we believe we can provide valuable insights to help shape an expansion that meets the needs of residents, visitors and businesses alike. We encourage the council to engage the Chamber in open dialogue as partners.
“By working together, we can ensure any changes provide the best possible outcome and avoid missteps. The Chamber of Commerce stands ready to contribute our knowledge and be a constructive sounding board on matters affecting Wantage’s commercial interests. We hope the Council will view us as a resource so we can build an even more vibrant town centre.”
The statement adds that the Chamber “recognises the town council’s efforts to expand the pedestrian area in the West End: however, we have major concerns about the current proposal.”
In an email to WTC on 12 September, Rob Corlett added that “it’s abundantly clear to everyone concerned that WTC and OCC have not had any discussion with any businesses in Wantage on their access requirements in the affected area for essential deliveries and collections. Neither have WTC and OCC had any discussions with the taxi companies, about whom WTC at least claims this expansion of the West End pedestrianised area is about.” Nor, it seems, was the local Wantage and Grove Campaign Group apprised of what was happening, its most recent newsletter describing the proposals as “very unclear.”
All this suggests that – aside from a lack or a perceived lack (which comes to much the same thing) of formal consultation or discussion – there was also a lack of information provided about what was proposed and why. Nature abhors a vacuum and so people will, understandably, fill in any gaps of knowledge about what’s happening with their own versions. These may not be correct and will inevitably be different from those of others. This leads to a lot of unnecessary confusion, uncertainty and divisiveness.
Uncertainty is probably the worst thing for a business. The regulations have changed before and now they’re changing again – but why, and to what, and with what results, no one seems sure. This isn’t a great recipe for commercial confidence.
Finally, the fewer details that are provided, the more pessimistic and cynical the conclusions of those trying to work out’s happening tend to be. An information evening could have fixed this. If one took place, none of the above-mentioned business owners or organisations appear to have been invited.
Finally, what can you do about this?
There is a consultation run by Oxfordshire CC. More information can be seen here (which also includes details of how to make your views known). This closes on Friday 15 September 2023: so, not long.
How long it will then take for a decision to be made and for any changes to be implements are two more questions I can’t answer. WTC and/or OCC might consider providing information on these points to the Chamber of Commerce: which is, as its statement says, ready and willing to engage on this matter.