LAST week Councillor Andrew Gant wrote about tourism in Oxford. Councillor Gant chairs the city council’s Scrutiny committee, which has recently completed a thorough, impressive and welcomed review of how tourism could be better managed in Oxford.

I said so when he presented it to the city council cabinet.

And yet, Councillor Gant said that our response to the review from the city council’s cabinet has been “pretty disheartening”. As the cabinet member for tourism, and having attended all but one of Scrutiny’s meetings over three months to pull together this report, I thought it was important to explain why we think it’s odd that Councillor Gant feels this way.

Of the 21 recommendations made in the review, the cabinet accepted nine in full and 10 at least in part. We backed a tourism levy to help improve services (it isn’t currently legal to introduce one, but we’re lobbying Government); we backed a call for more Government funding to support tourism; we also think public toilets in the city centre need improvement (but primarily for residents, not tourists); we also think Oxford University colleges could do more to promote their opening hours; and we also think the tourism sector should pay the Oxford Living Wage to staff.

We only rejected two of Scrutiny’s recommendations in full. One, to bring more events to the city, was turned down simply because the events team is being externally audited in October, and we’d rather wait until the results of that before making a decision. The other, for me to sit on Experience Oxfordshire’s board, we felt was unnecessary: I meet with the chief executive of Experience Oxfordshire regularly, and the city council’s head of community services already sits on the board.

Inexplicably, Councillor Gant writes: “We started by asking them to come up with a vision for tourism, and suggested what it might cover: not necessary, apparently.” But we accepted this recommendation! All we said was that the vision for tourism should not sit as a separate piece of work; instead, it should be part of a wider vision for the city centre, which is being commissioned, so that tourism in Oxford is balanced with the needs of residents.

Much of what Councillor Gant’s wrote about concerned the management of coaches. Again, we largely agree with Scrutiny in this area: the current coach drop-off in St Giles’ simply isn’t working. That’s why we’re working with Oxfordshire County Council, which is responsible for transport and has the most powers in this area, to find a new location for a coach layover station – with facilities for drivers – near the city centre; and it’s why we helped fund the county council to hire a dedicated parking inspector last summer to stop coaches idling in St Giles’.

Of the four Scrutiny recommendations around the management of coaches, we accepted three in full. The only one we partially turned down was to apply for Oxford to become a ‘Coach Friendly City’. This is because Coach Friendly City status requires that drivers are able to drop off outside attractions – such as in Broad Street, High Street and St Giles’ – and expect facilities at these drop-off points. This could only make the situation in Oxford worse. It’s the opposite of what residents want, and seems to run completely counter to every other recommendation in the report.

Councillor Gant concluded his article by saying: “I hope our ideas will stimulate debate. I hope they will get a receptive hearing.”

He knows that the recommendations received a positive response from cabinet, and I don’t think informed debate is helped by misrepresenting our views.

The biggest issue with tourism in Oxford is that the vast majority of visitors are on day trips – of the 7.5 million people who visited Oxford in 2017, 6.4 million of them were on day trips.

We want to shift that balance, so more people stay longer and see a wider part of our beautiful city. This will significantly increase tourist spend in Oxford, and largely end the problems with day trip coaching parking in St Giles’.

We have been trying to tackle this issue for years, and it’s why we have encouraged the addition of a number of hotels in Oxford over recent years.

Tourism is a vital part of the city’s economy and its right that we make visitors feel as welcome in Oxford as possible. But Oxford is a medieval city with very limited space, and any improvements for tourists should not be at the expense of Oxford residents.

We need to find a balance, and we are learning from cities across Europe, including Edinburgh, Bruges and Bath, that have similar challenges. We welcome new ideas to find the right balance, but we can only do that by working together and debating the issues in good faith.