I put up a post last night here about the 15 year-old boy who fell from his bike into the River Thames at Port Meadow. I put it on my Oxford Agenda site rather than here because, although an Oxford story, it was more about attitudes to risk than about Oxford.
It predicted that Oxford City Council would rush to fence off the area and, with the clang of a stable door, they did so this morning. These are temporary barriers, designed to keep people away from the heavily pot-holed area from which the boy fell. Given the condition of the footpath and the state of the river, a temporary barrier is not objectionable. My concern, as expressed yesterday, was that a permanent barrier would be put in place at the instigation of busybodies, on the recommendation of a risk-averse officer and at the command of a weak-minded councillor. That may yet happen.
The objections to this are many – suburbanisation of an area whose main characteristic is wildness, over-protectiveness, unnecessary cost at the expense of more valuable things, and the usual inability of a civic functionary to differentiate between hazard and risk. That battle is for the future as Oxford City Council considers the budgetary and other implications.
But why is the footpath, and indeed the whole river bank from Medley to Folly Bridge in such a poor state? A report in the Oxford Times of 27 August 2004 cited lack of money and shared responsibility as the reasons for neglect which was causing concern even then. One regular user was quoted as saying of the potholes “It would not surprise me if someone is not seriously injured cycling along the towpath”.
Well, now someone is almost certainly dead, apparently as a result of hitting one of the potholes of which Oxford City Council had such notice more than two years ago. The overall cost of dealing with the whole riverbank was given in 2004 as £100,000. It would not, presumably, have cost much to attend to this short stretch which is the most heavily used part of the bank. Because the north-south stretch along the river and the east-west crossing between the city and the Perch both use it, any rational risk-assessment would have concluded that this stretch had priority.