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'Do-gooders' just want to be heard
OXFORD could get its first new parish council in 40 years, if a group of self-proclaimed ‘do-gooders’ get their way.
The group of residents from St Margaret’s, which lies to the south of Summertown, and north of Jericho, want to take control of the area’s open spaces and help support local community groups.
And if 10 per cent of St Margaret’s voters are in favour, Oxford City Council could be obliged to grant their wish and St Margaret’s could become the city’s fifth parish council.
Author and St Margaret’s resident Chris Goodall, 56, is one of the residents who have come up with the idea.
He explained: “Basically we are a bunch of 10 or so local do-gooders who want a voice on the issues affecting where we live, and we are hoping there are others who feel the same.”
“Here in St Margaret’s there are a large number of community organisations, all working hard, but in some cases stepping on each other’s toes.
“Meanwhile, the centralisation of local government, and the loss of area committees, means many decisions are being made on our behalf, without people being able to voice their opinions.”
The parish council could raise funds through a “precept”, a charge added to council tax bills, although this is usually very small compared to the overall bill.
Mr Goodall added: “Parish councils have limited powers but they help represent their community to the city and county councils. And we believe a parish council would give us a forum for all our groups and a voice with the City Council.”
A parish council’s responsibilities can include open spaces, public memorials and many other relatively minor things. But they are also entitled to be consulted on all City Council decisions and often have an active involvement in planning applications.
Mr Goodall said: “A parish council would be non-political, but it could allow us to take over the running of some of our own services, and also give us the freedom to fund some new groups.”
If the plans are supported by 10 per cent of St Margaret’s voters, Oxford City Council will have to start a Community Governance Review. In more than 200 similar cases in Britain in the past 15 years, this has resulted in new parish councils.
A public meeting to discuss the parish council was held last night.
A spokesman for Oxford City Council said: “To date we have not been received any information about this proposal. We await the details.”
All that is needed to form a parish council is a valid petition signed by 10 per cent of the registered voters in the proposed area.
This petition would have to set out the proposed boundaries of the parish.
In the case of St Margaret’s the petition would need to be signed by 440 registered voters.
The city council would then carry out a community governance review to set up the council.
Guidelines from the Department for Communities and Local Government say that defining a community is not a “precise matter”.
They suggest considering where shopping centres, transport facilities and places of worship are, as well as “the pattern of daily life”.
There are currently four parish councils within Oxford – Old Marston, Risinghurst and Sandhills, Blackbird Leys, and Littlemore.
It is up to each parish council whether to increase council tax in the community, but most parishes do choose to levy a precept.