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Dodgy developments

Oxford City Council are under fire for trying to sneak through a hugely revamped land-development project under a conveniently confusing cloud of gobbledygook.

The residents of Wolvercote are understandably far from happy about the information available to them on a matter that could massively change their local environment and quality of life.

The council have outlined – poorly – plans to develop a large business and housing site in Wolvercote, which will transform the area and eat into part of the local countryside, more so than was expected.

We’ve read through Oxford City Council’s ‘Northern Gateway Area Action Plan Proposed Submission’ document and it’s horrible. It uses phrases like ‘The Knowledge Spine’ and is full of stuff like the following.

“Transport measures – The Core Strategy clearly states that development on this site will be expected to incorporate a package of transport measures including capacity improvements to roads and junctions and demand management measures to mitigate the impact of the development on the local and strategic road network.”

We know why it’s horrible – as Phillip Dove from the Wolvercote Commoners’ Committee states, Oxford City Council has changed “its plan of developing the Northern Gateway to a far greater extent than originally outlined”.

In order to sneak through a much wider development, rather than clearly and simply stating their aims, which they know will be extremely unpopular, the council have buried their underhand intentions in jargon.

Mr Dove said they had been “besieged with pleas for help” from residents who were worried about the scheme but didn’t understand the information available, or what they could do about it.

He said, “The city council has made the commenting procedure far from easy. Unless one is able to plough through the extensive and sometimes jargon-riddled outline plan, it is almost impossible for the average person to understand.”

Oxford City Council spokesman Chofamba Sithole surprisingly suggests, “The city council has worked hard to make the wording of the area action plan as accessible as possible.

“The document it produced is supported by a range of papers, which explain the plan in simple language and through an evidence base provide technical information to back up the policies.”

Chrissie Maher, founder and director of Plain English Campaign, unsurprisingly disagrees.

“The council document, on a serious public matter involving the green belt and the long-term livelihoods of local residents, is impossible to understand. And the comment form, which itself is badly written, is meaningless because of that fact."

“Any and all information that the public really needs to understand from top to bottom must be delivered in a clear and understandable way, and the documents in this case are really confusing. You have to ask why that’s the case. The fact that the development plan has been massively changed without anyone being told offers a big clue. There’s no excuse, whatever the subject, for writing information for the public as badly as Oxford City Council have done here.”

You can download the development plan from Oxford City Council's website. (PDF, 12.3MB)

It’s no doubt one among many similar examples – do let us know if your local council produces something similarly unhelpful and unclear and we can bring it to wider attention.

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