The highways people are still frigging around at Headington, I see, polishing the roads, gold-plating the pavements and filling the junction with the poles, posts, bollards, signs, islands and the other clutter which they so love. It is hard to see that the project will do anything to improve the traffic-flow, but it will have kept a lot of people in work and, more importantly, used up some of the budget. Next year’s budget will be based on what they spend this year, so they need a few big projects.
The most puzzling part of the whole exercise was the filling in of the well-used pedestrian subway which allowed people to cross the road without impeding the traffic. Impeding traffic is what highways officers do best, of course, and there is now an extra set of lights to replace the subway. If other junctions are anything to go by, the lights will be phased with others to maximise the number of times a motorist has to stop and start. I am never sure whether this is deliberate perversity or just stupidity, but it does not do much to cut pollution.
So far as I am aware, no reason was ever advanced for blocking up the subway. I don’t suppose they read much economic theory at Oxfordshire Highways, but perhaps someone heard that Keynes advocated the digging and refilling of holes as a fix for recession and decided to take him literally. Quite how you get from there to filling up a useful and serviceable subway, I am not sure. There are plenty of other holes in Oxfordshire’s roads which need filling. Many residents of Headington were extremely cross about it, and signed a petition. I doubt that Oxfordshire Highways even bothered to get someone in to read it to them.
It is not that they don’t change their minds there. They like, however, to do the works and spend the money first. The cobbled bicycle lanes were deemed a mistake, as were all the speed bumps in Longwall, and there were those lights by Boswells which came and went and came back again. I gather that they are now planning to redo Frideswide Square, adopting the roundabout which everyone except the highways officers knew to be right at the time.
The test, I always think, is whether they would be so ready to spend their own money on analogous works at home – spending fortunes with no obvious application of thought or intelligence, knowing they can always redo the work a few years later. Unless they are even better paid than I think they are (and local government is one of those areas where there is no discernible relationship between pay and ability – you get monkeys whether you pay peanuts or fortunes), I am sure they devote more thought to their kitchens or house extensions than they do the very expensive works which they commission at public expense.
It is interesting also to see another example of the contempt which highways officers show towards those who are trying to run businesses in Headington. A group of five or six shops, including two charity shops, is still fenced off from the pavement. As so often with works like this, those who plan the works give no thought at all to the need of businesses to attract passing trade and to be accessible. If you are a public servant, of course, your money just drops into your bank account each month whether you are any good at your work or just like the rest. You also despise anything outside the public sector and do not really distinguish between a charity shop and a branch of an international bank – they are all representatives of evil capitalism. It could be, of course, that nothing so coherent informs the decision to cut these premises off from the pavement for so long; it could just be selfish stupidity.