Oriel Square was a bustling, pretty little place when I first knew it, as an undergraduate in the 1970s. I lived round the corner for two years and crossed it every day. Oriel College is beautiful even amongst its peers, in large part because you can stand back and look at it across the square. You could park there then, and the place was alive with cars, bikes and pedestrians.
It is a soulless place now, dragged down by the dead hand of council bureaucrats for whom it is just a street, by dim, dull little people with no cultural roots, no sensibility or sensitivity, no faculties to appreciate beautiful things.
You can’t stand back and look at Oriel now. What you see instead is an ugly, utilitarian set of signs, boxes, poles, posts and bollards. They were put there as part of the Oxford Traffic Strategy, a £20 million scheme to screw up the traffic flow around Oxford.
The OTS simply dumped traffic management on Oxford. To the ghastly little men of Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council, Oxford was just a map onto which were scattered lines, signs, barriers and all the other detritus so beloved by highways officers. Its quirky little streets and architectural gems were just units in traffic control.
Only a council officer could do this to Oriel Square. Only a thick pen-pushing dolt, trained to walk the council corridors at the regulation pace and on the correct side of the corridor, could think it right to ruin a pretty place like this. Anyone else would say that if the OTS needed this then the OTS was fundamentally flawed.
As I have noted elsewhere, the council oik would simply not understand the objection. It is just a few buildings to him, old buildings at that, in winding inconvenient streets, not a bit like Stevenage where his cultural roots lie. He would boast of having removed traffic from the streets, too ignorant to see that it is traffic which gives the streets their life, too thick and uncultured to see that his street furniture is hideous. These are separate points, of course – even if you accept the removal of traffic, you do not have to replace it with things like this.
Oxford came top – that is, bottom – in a survey conducted last year by English Heritage, for the amount and quality of its street clutter. Oriel Square is the worst example, partly because it was so particularly lovely, partly because the bollards are particularly hideous, and partly because of the sad air of dereliction which hangs over the place now.
We do not just have ugly street furniture here. We do not even weed the streets. I have written about this separately – see Oriel Square put out to grass.