This post is not strictly to do with life in the House of Lords, but readers may draw their own conclusions about planning law, the drive for retail growth, and the expansion of the numbers of students (not an unmitigated blessing) who need affordable housing at the university. The building of large blocks of graduate flats overlooking the open grazing land of Port Meadow caused great controversy and differences between Oxford University staff and citizens, while the students were largely in favour because they need the housing. Oxford was once regarded as the city of dreaming spires, and the home of lost causes: now very much the latter rather than the former. It is also sadly a place where many appalling abuses of young girls by gangs have occurred. I have lived there for more than 40 years and, much as I love it, I cannot admire it any more as a beautiful place, at least not in the public domain. The interior of most colleges, especially the older ones, remains unspoiled and inspiring.
But this is our main shopping street with the usual shops, and teenage tourists who tend to cluster round McDonalds at Carfax. The seating in the street is inverted stainless steel, to ensure that it is neither vandalised nor occupied for too long. The city council is not content with the retail outlets that we have, for example the Westgate Centre, so it is being greatly extended, and may well draw into the extension some of the existing shops in the city centre.
The city is undertaking all its roadworks at once with predictable chaos. At the station it is making the changes that were obviously desirable ten years ago, and making very heavy weather of them too. The main road into the city centre from the west is snarled up with new discount stores, and the two northern entries to the city are both being torn up at the moment.
Maybe worst of all to some tastes are the latest additions to the university and college buildings. While the extended Ashmolean Museum and the Weston Library are outstanding successful and fit perfectly within their settings and their older incarnations, here are some that stand out like sore thumbs, (the Blavatnik building, the Investcorp building and the redeveloped Radcliffe Infirmary site), modern chunks, blocks and tubes plonked down in small scale Jericho and graceful N. Oxford. I am well aware of the challenges facing less wealthy colleges in designing and funding new buildings and managing the influence of donors who want a statement building.
Given that there was a dreadful fire at the iconic Randolph Hotel earlier this year, one might echo the Queen and say it has been an annus horribilis for this former architectural gem of a city.