The photograph below encapsulates quite a lot of Oxford’s neglect in one go.
We see a hideous bridge across the Oxford Canal. It is covered in graffiti. Next to it is an overflowing bin. On it are two traffic signs. All around are weeds. The bridge we are stuck with, this generation’s blight on the area for a century or more. The others could be fixed tomorrow with no great application of thought or money.
The story of the bridge, which lies at the end of old Frenchay Road and runs across to the Berkeley Homes Waterways estate, is told in a post called A bridge too big on the Oxford Canal. This post deals with the bin, the graffiti and the notices.
Road signs are endemic in Oxford. I think a little man from Oxfordshire County Council goes down the pavements with a tape measure and fills every gap of more than a certain length with a pole and a notice – two notices in this case. Moved a few yards to the east, it would not be seen from the canal – but you cannot expect a County Council pen-pusher to think about things like that or, indeed , to think about anything.
The overflowing dog-shit bin
The bin, intended for dog owners, is overflowing and had been for some time when this photograph was taken. A similar green bin near Isis Lock (aka Louse Lock where the Canal meets Sheepwash Channel) was in a similar state, so I was told by a woman I met when we were both picking up bottles and cans from Port Meadow (I add this detail to show that people do notice and do talk about this kind of neglect).
I thought this odd, because Oxford City Council is now quite good about emptying its public bins, and has been since Councillor Jean Fooks became Litter Supremo (or Executive Member for a Cleaner City as her snappy title has it). The Labour administration never bothered much, presumably thinking it was an affront to the dignity of the sisters and brothers of the union that they should stoop to emptying bins, or perhaps because they never found the time for practical day-to-day things amidst all the rhetoric and concern.
On the other hand, it quite typical of Oxford City Council that they could run to the capital cost of buying and fitting the bins but not quite manage the boring business of maintaining them. They also used to operate a kind of rubbish apartheid, under which bins were not emptied if the council disapproved of the people who filled them. They used, for example, to leave the bins at Aristotle Lane Rec unemptied because canal dwellers used them, without ever suggesting what the boaties should do with their rubbish. The wonders of the bureaucratic mind.
Close examination of the bin showed that it bore the logo of British Waterways. My post Sex by the Oxford Canal suggested that British Waterways ought to make some amends for closing down and flogging off Castle Mill Boatyard by tidying up the canal bank. Perhaps these two bins were that gesture.
The fact that they were full suggests that they were needed. The size of some of the bags suggested more than animal faeces, unless someone has been perambulating their elephant along the canal. To me that is an argument for more and bigger bins. To the local authority sort of mind it is probably an argument for removing them – people might use them, and then where would we be?
After the Castle Mill fiasco, I suspect that BWB’s management is made up of the sort of people who could aspire to work for a local authority if they were a bit brighter. Putting the bins by the canal is a nice gesture, but a bin which is not emptied is actually worse than no bin.
As at this morning, the Frenchay Road bin was empty or, at least, was not full. Let’s see how things go this week.
Not the least of the design defects in the Frenchay Road bridge is that it provides a super canvas for the sort of oik who loves scribbling on walls. Graffiti is one of those low-level crimes which provides a kind of index of the quality of local policing – you get graffiti in inverse proportion to the care and attention of the beat police.
Oxford’s approach to crime, as with public drinking, is to drive it out from the city centre with CCTV. Out there beyond the range of the cameras, you cannot see it, and if you cannot see it, perhaps it is not happening. The police have to set priorities, of course, and I would not wish to imply that we shiver in fear behind locked doors after dark out here in mellow North Oxford.
Nevertheless, it would be nice to see the occasional copper on a bike after dark, and to get some sense that they know who the trouble-makers are. We keep a beat policeman, on average, for about ten days before they get promoted to something else, so they have barely got to know the street names before they are moved on. It is low-level information which tackles low-level crime and you cannot get that in ten days.
I know they are not allowed to box youths’ ear’oles any more, but a quiet word in the said orifices has the potential to deter this week’s graffiti artist from becoming next week’s mugger. As it is, the bad’uns discover very quickly that no-one is going to catch them because no-one is around and no-one cares very much.
If we cannot stop the graffiti, how about removing it quickly? Oxford City Council had a drive to obliterate graffiti a few years ago. It transformed this area very quickly and was coupled, as I recall it, with the capture of a serial scribbler by Oxford’s Finest.
It remains the city’s policy to remove graffiti quickly, at least where it owns the land on which the wall stands. There are difficulties, however. The solvent is not cheap, and they feel they need permission (even if they don’t hold out for a fee) to tackle a wall which belongs to someone else. Most walls do not belong to the council.
You get some confusing messages sometimes. I am far from clear whether the wall which belongs to Worcester College at the Hythe Bridge Street end of the Oxford Canal remains covered in graffiti (or did when I was last there) because the city declines to do it without a fee, because Worcester refuses access, or because Worcester likes being covered in graffiti.
The wall which runs up from the end of Aristotle Lane (see my post about it) presumably belongs to the council or, if it does not, they have cleaned it before and no-one complained – far from it. If the policy is to remove graffiti, why don’t they just get on with it? And, by the way, if Mr Plod popped down there from time to time, he might stop by the cars which meet down by the railway track after dark, and say “Evenin’ all”. He might catch more than a graffiti artist.
But back to the Oxford Canal at Frenchay Road. I don’t know who owns the bridge. I imagine that Oxfordshire County Council owns the carriageway. British Waterways owns the towpath and (I think) the weed-and-graffiti-covered patch to the south-east. We have seen that BWB find it hard even to empty their bins, so it seems unlikely that they will tackle graffiti.
So what happens? Nothing? Do we leave this once pretty patch to fester because it is away from the CCTV and away from tourists? I guess so.