Worries to overcome but a lot of positives on the way in 2014

Oxford Mail: Andrew Smith Andrew Smith

There is lots to look forward to in 2014 for Oxford, but there are some serious worries too. First of all, let’s hope we make it through the year without a repeat of the flooding which has created such misery in the past.

Flood defences have been improved but low-lying parts of the city are still vulnerable to high water volumes coming downstream, and more government investment is desperately needed.

2014 will start well if the city council backs Oxford Stadium and rejects the developers’ planning application on January 8. The whole county will then need to back the stadium by pressing the Government to turn down any appeal. The good news is there are operators bidding to run the stadium for greyhounds, speedway, karting, dance and the other recreational activities on the site. It would be great to see the stadium re-open fully in 2014.

Despite recent patchy form, Oxford United have what it takes to win promotion to League One and it will be a huge boost for supporters and the city if they can make it. Let’s wish Oxford City all the best too, to continue punching above their weight and avoid getting sucked into a relegation battle.

The quality of the design of the new Mini and the production effort of the Cowley workforce means 2014 should be another year of global success for our iconic Oxford car. It’s also good news that the Unite union’s negotiating effort will mean hundreds of agency workers getting permanent contracts.

With great candidates for the local elections, Labour will look to make gains in May. Anneliese Dodds is also number one on the Labour list for the European Elections, so we have every chance of electing the first Labour MEP to live in the city.

In Blackbird Leys, the present big hole in the ground is steadily turning into a great new swimming pool, and we look forward to it opening at the year’s end.

The development of nearly 900 new homes at Barton will start next year, with a much-needed mix of housing, and good local services, including a nature park, sports facilities and a new primary school.

I hope that the redevelopment of Westgate finally gets off the ground this year – a huge boost for shoppers and for jobs. I’m also hoping for progress on the £35m Science Discovery Centre and the University Bio-Escalator project. We need to build on the incredible science, engineering and medical achievements of our universities.

My big worry for 2014 is the impact of the county council budget cuts, which threaten serious damage to advice centres, homelessness and key services for the elderly and young people. People on low incomes and disabilities are taking a hammering, and there’s a responsibility on the community to stand up for them. We also face the continuing financial pressures on the NHS. The problems with bed-blocking must be sorted out, and good community alternatives to unnecessary stays in hospital provided. But the budget shortfall at the Clinical Commissioning Group will mean very difficult choices for hospital services and staffing. I wish all the best to the medical and support staff who do such a great job for us despite the pressures they are under.

Oxford has great strengths, and a huge depth of talent and vitality in our diverse community, so I feel confident that 2014 will see plenty of positives.

A very happy New Year to all readers.

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