BMW rides roughshod over public rights of way

It’s time to boycott BMW! That includes Minis, made in Oxford. Well, perhaps you were never going to buy one anyway. But don’t ever be taken in by BMW’s cosy image – such as in Oxford where their Mini plant is located and where they host a theatre company on their site and have sponsored the popular Cowley Road carnival. Oh no, this is a real roll-your-sleeves-up corporation that means business.

In my spare time, when I’m not working at the New Internationalist, I have gotten involved in rights-of-way politics in Oxford, mainly because I was given an old horse and looked for places to go riding.

BMW acquired their site in Oxford in 1994, courtesy of a sweetener from the Thatcher government. They knew it had a bridleway running across it. But ever since they have tried to get the pesky public path closed, citing ‘security’ – that old chestnut – as an issue.

Some say it’s really because the management does not like the untidiness of ordinary people being able to cross the Works. Others believe it’s because BMW wants to asset-strip – probably by selling off the land for housing – and make a mint when the times comes for it to clear off in search of cheaper labour.

BMW says it is because it wants to develop the site and put in a new railhead: you can see the greenery behind their words – but we’ll believe that when we see it.

They persuaded Oxfordshire County Council to apply to court for the bridleway to be closed. East Oxford Labour MP Andrew Smith backed BMW (his household has a Mini). The scare talk was all about ‘What if BMW leaves?’ Well, most BMW workers we talked to know damn well that the company will probably leave when it suits them: up sticks and shoot off to India, China or wherever the workers cost less. But in the meantime, Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) cravenly does what it is bidden.

Worse, though, BMW has paid all OCC’s expenses in the court case that has just concluded in nearby Witney today. Talk about cosy relationships! But in addition, OCC is slamming the two charities that opposed the closure with costs. The British Horse Society (BHS) and the Ramblers’ Association – who both tried to defend the public’s right to this route – have been hit with costs of £50,000 between them. It certainly does not encourage ‘ordinary’ people, (such as volunteers with few resources), to stand up for their rights, does it?

BMW is making alternative provision for walkers and pedestrians on a longer route that runs by the Oxford ring-road – a noisy, congested and polluted motorway. But they are not making any provision for horseriders who will now no longer be able to ride to the Oxford City-owned Shotover Country Park with its pleasant bridleways and rides.

Amidst the despondency in the losers’ camp was a bit of hilarity when looking at some of BMW’s ‘security’ anxieties – industrial espionage for example. Well, horses are a great way to go discreetly around spying, aren’t they! No-one would know they were there, would they? But the one that had us laughing out loud was that apparently some ungrateful BMW workers flog their corporate t-shirts on eBay just minutes after being issued with them! Where's the corporate pride?

If you’d like to donate to the fighting fund to pay for the costs we’ve been hit with, then please send a cheque payable to BHS to Mark Weston, Director of Access, British Horse Society, Stoneleigh Deer Park, Kenilworth CV8 2XZ.

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