Cherwell District Council have a lot to answer for. The atmospheric Banbury canalside, a heady mixture of industry, commerce, trasnportation, houses, trees was swept away and replaced with a bus station and the blank side wall of a shopping mall. In one fell swoop, the developers ripped out what could have been the focus of the town for future generations. But like many towns through the 1970s and 1980s, Banbury chose blandness. It wasn't even a case of profits over heritage: the shabby bus station, grubby concrete wharves and echoing mall themselves remain at the periphery of the town. The sheer size and bulk of the bus station and mall act as very physical barriers, and as soon as the mall closes, the area becomes shady and has a feeling of isolation. It's as if some planner sat back, chewed his pencil and thought "Now how do we make it really cold and sterile?" The presence of Tooley's as a shop-cum-yard-cum-museum is no consolation. It's embedded in the bowels of the shopping mall like some kind of abcess.
The news that there was a new Development Plan for the area east and south of this monstrosity - for the Oxford Canal as it winds its way out of town southwards - was intriguing and encouraging. But the Development Plans are hollow; they are as bland as that original development and look set simply to extend the dreadful Banbury experience even further. It is a pity because Banbury is such a charming town with such an interesting history, good shops and pubs and good transport. Basically, anything the planners haven't touched are good; everything they have, is fairly useless.
The Development Plans will guide developers and builders as they buy plots of land and build on them. The plans completely ignore the current presence of light industry and commerce in the area, replacing it with high-density box-like houses. So a locus of jobs, income, tax and economy are replaced with cheap hutches. The plans have the now obligatory oblique references to sustainability but also - given the canalside situation - sketches of narrowboats. There is virtually no mention of any kind of boating activity other than mention of visitor moorings, but as all the individual developments will be privateky funded, it is almost guaranteed that there will be lots of orders for "No Mooring" signs. The Banbury waterside will become yet another lacklustre, sterile, litter-strewn pathway, characterised by grafitti, broken brick pathways, overgrown and weedy flowerbeds and broken benches. There will be the usual murals of canal history painted by local primary-school children, but nothing of consequence, nothing that future generations will want to treasure. Come to think of it, nothing that the current generation will want to treasure.
I didn't submit my comments in the Cherwell District consultation. I don't pay taxes locally, I don't work or live in Banbury. I doubt I will be spending much time in the town in future, either. Pity.
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