Anyone who is trying to eke a living out of the dying night time economy in Abingdon knows that the businesses located in the town centre are, to a large extent, interdependent on each other - especially at night.
In the good old days, a typical Saturday night out for a younger person in this small provincial town might entail meeting at a slightly out of town pub and a taxi ride into town. There would be a pub crawl around the town centre, followed for the more adventurous by an evening in Abingdon's now long gone and almost mythically so-bad-it’s-good night club and afterwards the delights of takeaway food.
At three o'clock in the morning, two or three hundred people would be disgorged out of the club, like souls out of one of Dante’s circles, on to the streets, conveniently situated for the taxi rank. It would be possible to earn another £100 to £150, as most would hire a taxi to take them home.
But that is no more, thanks to an open licensing policy, which means that the one functional taxi rank in the town centre is more than six times oversubscribed, when the part timers and those who work for private hire companies out of district descend upon the rank like leeches, to make their weekly cash income, at pub closing time.
We wait in an ever increasing queue of taxis, stretching off the five car rank itself to the night rank next to it, around The Square and half way down the High Street, in a live traffic stream. We are all competing for space with the restaurant staff, their customers, takeaway food businesses, those who work there with the expectation of parking right outside, and those who drive for them, delivering their takeaway food in their own private cars.
Eight years driving taxis in and around Abingdon has been accompanied by a litany of public sector failures in town centre development projects, which might bring people in and increase footfall. The Old Gaol with its two restaurant units still empty, the abandonment of The Charter redevelopment, the revamped Precinct, described by an out of town customer last week as “where I come from, love, we would call this all fur coat and no knickers” and this latest failure, of the Guildhall cinema project, under two different town council administrations.
Local councillors clearly like working from heritage buildings borne of an illustrious past, the wearing of robes for meetings starting at £650 each (for one made out of polyester), military ceremonial, royal visitors, the act of bun throwing and all of the panoply of pomp and circumstance that goes with civic life in one of the pretenders to the title of Britain's oldest town.
Whether the civic leadership even exists at all, to bring about what Abingdon needs and what those who live, work and do business here deserve is still open to question. Cometh the year, cometh the councillors. Or not.
As published in the Herald Series, Wednesday 22 February 2017
- Michael's Civic Robes, Price List, October 2016, as consulted 20 February 2017