The recent announcement of additional funding for new roads and bridges to the north of Didcot shows yet again how this once small community is eclipsing Abingdon, its illustrious, larger and arguably, more historically significant neighbour, to the north.
According to the national Census, there were 25,140 souls living in Didcot in 2011 and 33,130 living in Abingdon. Yet the railway has become more significant than the river once was and while Abingdon lost its branch line railway station in the 1960s, Didcot has continued to thrive in its position on the mainline to London and has become the economic powerhouse for southern Oxfordshire.
Seemingly, the civic leadership of Abingdon with its love of pomp and circumstance and dressing up in robes and hats for parish council meetings, is content to rest on its historical laurels, in grand municipal buildings which speak of a bygone era.
The building of thousands of new houses costing upwards of £350,000 for characterless three bedroomed properties is happening everywhere locally. But unlike Didcot, with its shopping centres, arts centre and cinema, in Abingdon, there has been a litany of public sector failure and a lack of civic leadership.
The promised extension to the 1960s precinct and demolition of the multi storey car park never happened. Instead we got a tarted up 1960s precinct and a Public Spaces Protection Order. Visitors approaching Abingdon over its three historic and beautiful bridges across the River Thames are greeted by the sight of decrepit old buildings, a former hotel, owned by the district council, but leased to a tenant, the council seemingly powerless to act for years.
And anyone driving in along this route, which offers the most architecturally and aesthetically pleasing route into the centre, will know it is best not to attempt it after four, when the centre of Abingdon becomes gridlocked every day.
Two of these new projects might ease this situation – though the neighbouring village of Culham is due to have more than three thousand new houses built there – but it is dreadful that Abingdon has been permitted through lethargy to become such a dysfunctional town.
Businesses, as we have always done, have had to find new ways to adapt, to survive and to thrive. Recently I started spending more time waiting on the altogether more civilised taxi rank in Wantage, rather than in Abingdon.
Bun throwing, Aunt Sally, Morris dancing and traditional music on their own are not enough. Abingdon needs a vibrant community, with dynamic leadership, which is in the interests of everyone who lives, works and does business here
Much of the area due to be enhanced economically by the new infrastructure and housing projects actually has an Abingdon postcode and is located in Vale of White Horse. It is only a matter of time before the boundaries themselves are shifted and Abingdon is consigned to history, becoming a quaint little historical backwater. Perhaps this has been the vision for Abingdon all along. They are already talking online of Didcot City.
As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 03 April 2019
Oxfordshire County Council, Oxfordshire Insight, 2011 Census Population overview map, as consulted 02 April 2019
Herald Series, New Didcot roads including Thames bridge given funding boost in Chancellor's Spring Statement, 14 March 2019 as consulted 02 April 2019