City forums 'damage local democracy'

The Oxford Times
April 10, 2012

By Damian Fantato

OXFORD’S controversial area forums are not working, it was claimed last night.

A year on from the creation of the forums, in place of the city council’s former area committees, a review has found problems with the new system.

The forums have been criticised by some, claiming they have meant less opportunity to discuss local issues.

The city council’s review panel, made up of two councillors and an officer, said the forums did not attract enough people and the meetings did not have enough clout.

Communities and partnerships scrutiny committee chairman Jim Campbell said it believed the forums were not working.

He said: “It’s almost certain that area forums will continue for at least a year, but we want to make sure they are fit for purpose.

“We need to look for a way to make the public feel that coming to these meetings can lead to actions, rather than just words.”

The panel will meet again to discuss ways to make improvements.

Peter Wilkinson, secretary of the Rose Hill Residents’ and Tenants’ Association, said only one fourm meeting had taken place in the area in the past year.

He said: “It has simply not been good enough. The area committees weren’t perfect but there were a lot better than what we have got now. It has damaged local democracy.”

The six area committees met each month to discuss local issues, decide planning applications and make grants to community groups.

Last April, the council replaced them with two planning committees – east and west – and six area forums. Each councillor was given £1,500 for community projects in their wards In the 12 months since area forums were introduced, all areas have had three or four meetings, but the south-east area has since been split into two, which means areas such as Rose Hill and Blackbird Leys have only had one meeting over the past year.

Littlemore’s first area forum was only held a fortnight ago .

Blackbird Leys parish council chairman Gordon Roper said: “We wanted to keep the area committees going. They worked because all the councillors were there, the police were there and the public, and they could have their say.”

Deputy council leader Ed Turner said: “The Government cut our grant over two years. Savings had to be made and we were anxious to protect jobs and services. The area forums will remain in place but we are in a learning process.”

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