Newsletter October 2008
AGM - Retiring Chairman's Report


John Bell’s Report reprinted for those unable to attend the AGM.

Although the AGM is normally an occasion for a report only on the previous year’s activities, as it is the 10th Anniversary of the inaugural founding meeting of the Society, I thought it appropriate to also look back over those years to trace the Society’s development.

To the best of my recollection, the Society came into existence as a result of the confluence of two situations: In 1998 a number of people in the Banbury area led by Rachel Kinchin-Smith and her late husband Michael felt it was time for Banbury to have an Amenity or Civic Society. This coincided with the “Mayoral Year” of Steve Kilsby, who, like town Mayors before and after, hoped to leave a legacy from his year in office. He called a meeting, the Society was launched and the officers appointed. On a personal note, I might add that I attended that meeting and, having recently retired, was considered to be fair game for Chairman. I agreed on the basis that it would only be for a brief period – yet I still find myself in that office today! Whilst the work and the range of the objectives admittedly grew on me year by year, I never expected to carry on for so long.

The early days were quite a struggle. Sadly Banbury as a town had had a long history of failure to protect its heritage, culminating in the disastrous destruction of the Cake Shop in Parsons Street in 1968. We adopted as our motto “Looking after the Past – Looking to the Future”. We had to impress on both the public and the planners that the heritage of the past, both in terms of buildings and their associated history, was irreplaceable once it had been destroyed. Over the years our professionalism has increased, particularly through having been joined by those with professional skills – we could still welcome more!

An early stalwart was Canon Derek Palmer, who became a most efficient and enthusiastic Secretary. It was a great blow to us all when he died suddenly in 2002 shortly before we unveiled two Blue Plaques in the Town.

We have always been able to maintain a strong management committee, with a number of changes as the years have passed. We have also sought constantly to keep increasing touch with our membership – initially this was inadequate being based on the occasional general meeting. In January 2006 we took a great step forward by introducing this quarterly newsletter which still seems to be increasing in content and size, and now we have added a Society website: www.banburycivicsociety.org . To this end, we hope to add more active sub-groups of members which will discuss and take action on specific issues in which individual members have a particular interest.

Parallel with this expansion over the years of the Society’s activities has been that of the Town Council – reformed on 1st April 2000. The return of the Town Council has meant there are two organisations in the town whose prime object is its welfare. Far from duplicating work, we have found that Council and Society have been mutually very supportive. The Society’s input into highway matter has largely been through the Banbury Traffic Advisory Committee, which has quarterly meetings attended by County council officials who can be closely questioned. Our concern was where possible to progress the more strategic matters relating to the town’s highways particularly a south-east ring road with a spur to the station to relieve traffic in Grimsbury. We also greatly value our involvement with the Built Heritage Working Party with representatives from the Town Council and other town groups who considertogether topical matters relating to the town’s buildings – existing and proposed.

Our relationship with the Planning Department of Cherwell District Council has strengthened over recent years and at an increasing pace, with much improved, better and regular communication.

We are seeking to have fixed meetings with Cherwell officials, particularly after the recent extensive changes in the Planning Department.

Last autumn we started a new initiative – that of “Living Over the Shop” or LOTS – combining additional opportunities for housing in the town centre and helping to put to good use less used parts of many of the town’s central and older buildings. We thank our member, John Gazey, for his particular interest in this and are grateful to Cherwell District Council for providing the personnel to investigate the detailed feasibility of the proposal and for calling meetings of the interested persons.

We are also very keen to see the redevelopment of the canal and riverside areas to the west of the railway and to the south of Bridge Street. This was the first industrial area of Banbury and still contains a number of historic buildings which must be adapted and preserved but which have become seriously run down during the postwar years. The Town ought to revive this southern section of the canal and river features at the same time as forming a proper multi-modal interchange for rail and bus and taxi traffic adjacent to the west side of station.

With the development of the Castle Quay Shopping Centre there has been a major focus on other activities on the eastern side of the Town Centre, such as Spiceball Leisure Centre (existing and the proposed Mark 2), the Mill Arts Centre and the new Museum. Unfortunately all this has to some extent been to the detriment of the more westerly part of the Town Centre, most obviously seen in the recent history of the White Lion Walk. This westerly part is increasingly being regarded by Banbury people as their preferred after hours relaxation area with a boom in restaurants and pubs. Pedestrianisation of Parsons Street will hasten this trend. The Fine Lady statue has given added interest to this area so cannot other attractionsbe placed in the vicinity, perhaps the new Library incorporating a gallery for local artists to exhibit? The rather bleak car park on the north west side of Calthorpe Street would seem like an ideal location.

It remains for me to thank our excellent team on the management committee for all they have done during the past year.

  • To Rev. George Fryer for dealing with the Minutes . Also his interest with the out-door swimming pool group and traffic problems in the Town Centre.
  • To Rev. Henry Ormerod for his particular interest in transport issues.
  • To John Batts for his interest in railway matters and his deep knowledge of Banbury.
  • To Kay Smith also for her knowledge of the town as it was and her very firm views as to how it should be.
  • To Lynda Pamment, a resident of Grimsbury, who keeps us in the picture as to the issues there.
  • To the Heritage “Watch Dogs” - Robert Kinchin-Smith with his great knowledge of planning procedures and regulations and Laurence and Penny Carey – also to Laurence for his work on editing this Newsletter.
  • To Rachel Kinchin-Smith and Adrienne Rees-Brown for looking after the membership and our finances.
  • To Mo Mant and Chris Mant – for their respective contributions on amenity matters generally and for new ideas on running the Society.

I think the Society is now in as good a shape as it has ever been and really beginning to flex its muscles and becoming seriously effective.

The next ten years will see it go from strength to strength.