Driving from one local town to another on a daily basis – and sometimes even further afield to the delights of cities like Southampton - offers a unique comparative perspective from which to view Abingdon, where I am based and from where I carry out most of my work.
A regular customer had said driving through the centre of Abingdon on Sunday night "It's dead here isn't it?” and I was hard pressed to disagree with him. Its town centre is not really what could be described as lively at all these days, save perhaps an occasional pay day weekend.
Abingdon likes to boast of its history and of its status as one of the pretenders to the title of the oldest town in the kingdom, but it is a pale shadow of its glory days when one of the greatest Benedictine monasteries in all of England was located here.
A similar discussion took place with another two regular customers, the following morning, headed for Southampton Docks. These journeys to adventures further afield offer an opportunity for conversation and perhaps even reflection away from the pressures of work, based on what they see out of the window.
As we drove down the A34, through much of my operating area, they remarked how much Didcot had grown, Great Western Park visible on the horizon. “I’m a big fan of Didcot” – population 24,000 - I said, with its less than an hour rail journey time to London, arts centre, expanding shopping centre. All the facilities Abingdon – population 36,000 - does not have.
Both customers were on their way out of Abingdon, bound for places more exciting elsewhere. But it is to the local elected representatives that we look to for leadership, to promote the town and to help make it into what it can and should be, for everyone who lives, works and does business here.
The recent announcement that Abingdon Town Council is pushing Vale of White Horse District Council to agree to an extension of its boundaries to encompass the Abingdon northern housing developments is not a hopeful sign, coming as it does after years of less than adequate town centre development projects and the failure of the Guildhall project.
Such a boundary extension, if it is even necessary at all, should surely be part of a wider boundary review, following the possible establishment of a unitary authority for the whole of Oxfordshire. Better still, let the people have an actual choice as to whether they even want a parish council. Many of the services which are provided by parish councils could surely be provided on a more cost effective basis by existing district councils, or a new unitary authority.
If they are not careful, Abingdon is in danger of becoming a sort of quaint in parts dormitory town, squeezed in the middle of Greater Oxfordshire, with Oxford to the north and the go-ahead Didcot to the south,
Perhaps it is already too late
As published in the Abingdon, Didcot, Wantage, Walingford Herald series, 15 March 2017
- Office for National Statistics, Neighbourhood Statistics, Population Density, 2011, Didcot civil parish (QS102EW)
Office for National Statistics, Neighbourhood Statistics, Population Density, 2011 Abingdon civil parish (QS102EW)
Abingdon Herald, Hands off our land: villagers 'angered' by Abingdon Town Council's plan extend into parishes, 23 February 2017