Aristotle Lane Recreation Ground is a pretty little rectangle of grass and trees by the Oxford Canal in North Oxford. More than 20 years ago, I pushed a pram round it. As my children grew up, we played football and cricket there and threw Frisbees. Now my children go there with guitars and girls.
Much of its attraction is that it is so plain and free of the clutter so beloved of the small minds of local authority officers.
It has a small fenced play area with some aging but much loved play equipment in it. There is a basketball hoop, and we recently got a bright blue and yellow goal and a rather artistic-looking piece of climbing equipment. It is used by all ages, and all rub along together – no one age-group has dominance and all feel welcome and safe.
In July 2001, we were asked in a survey what we most wanted by way of improvements. An overwhelming majority wanted the Rec drained so that it could be used all year round – indiscriminate housing had covered all the land around with concrete and the Rec was the last patch of grass left to absorb the water. Instead we were given a concrete skate area by a fanatical councillor who, Blair-like, took the view that if he thought the cause was right then any means were justified to achieve it.
The report on the survey, done by an officer of the then Parks Department, was patently dishonest – patent in the sense that the disconnection between the factual results and the conclusion was obvious on the face of the document. The fanatical councillor drove the proposal through in the teeth of fierce local opposition, and the skate area was opened in March 2003. It was closed in May 2003 as a statutory nuisance and broken up in March 2004.
The skate area cost £32,000 to build. The total cost by the time of demolition was over £50,000. The Ombudsman condemned Oxford City Council for maladministration. We were left with a wet recreation ground which could have been drained for the money which had been wasted, and an immense amount of bad feeling all round.
The councillor showed no contrition. The (perfectly competent) head of the Parks Department lost his job for a disconnected reason (a bungled reorganisation) a few months later. The woman who wrote the original report kept hers.
The end of the story you would think.