What ideas do you have for making Oxford a better place to shop?
I got a Comment from a man who had visited Oxford today and been impressed by the fact that the book and music shops (he named Blackwells particularly) did not assume that he wanted his purchases put into a plastic bag – indeed, assumed the opposite.
At first sight this seemed a bit off-subject, as my correspondent acknowledged. Our role here is to show you the attractions of Oxford and to castigate the authorities when their actions (or lack of them) threaten the fabric or the feel of the place.
However, the attractions of Oxford extend beyond its buildings and tangible assets. Anything which generates enough warmth in a visitor that he bothers to drop me a note about it is as much an inducement for people to come here as the scenery. We need all the visitors we can get, especially those who buy books and music.
Besides, my second purpose, keeping the authorities up to the mark, is also served by introducing the topic, and on three grounds.
The first is a theme which will recur here. Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council profess to be keen to encourage visitors, an objective they strive for by turning the High Street into a bus parade, St Giles into a coach park, the pavements into a display of signposts, and the streets into a jungle of barriers, yellow lines, notices and diversions patrolled by hard-faced traffic wardens. With such support, the shop-keepers need more than an eco-friendly attitude over plastic bags to bring in the trade to pay the rent.
The second is that plastics and other recycling matters are a hot topic here at the moment. Oxford City Council has done its bit for the environment by halving the number of rubbish collections, decorating the pavements and house-fronts with giant wheelie-bins, and imposing a regime for the collection of recyclables so complex that its own web site cannot describe it accurately. The councillors’ hearts are undoubtedly in the right place, but they rushed at it, and over-estimated the abilities of those whose job is to execute such things.
The wider lesson for them is that whilst formal “consultations” have become a debased currency in Oxford (“dishonest” is the kindest word for most of them), there is still some mileage in trying to carry the populace with you by clear and frank explanations of what must be achieved and what the options are. Next time perhaps.
The third point arising from my correspondent’s reference to plastic bags arose by coincidence a few hours after I got his Comment. I happened to drive past Blackwells this evening and up Parks Road – which was festooned with plastic bags blowin’ in the wind. Perhaps Oxford City Council has had to divert all its refuse collection manpower to fire-fighting the wheelie-bins revolt. Or perhaps now that our non-recyclables are collected only occasionally, a higher proportion of them gets into the wild (although the biggest concern here is the wild, in the form of rats, getting into the uncollected rubbish). Either way, Parks Road was a disgrace.
I am not really up for a campaign to persuade shops to cut the number of plastic bags they hand out or, indeed, for a part in any campaign to tell people what to do – we get quite enough of that as it is. Too many eco-warriors look as if doing their bit to save resources involves giving up washing for me to want to join them.
I am, however, up for anything which makes Oxford a better place to shop. Tell me what you like and don’t like in Oxford’s shops, but do us all a favour and stick to things which we have some chance of changing for the better, preferably without regulation.