John Chipperfield has sent us a cutting of his Oxford Mail ‘Memory Lane’ article looking back at the public outcry caused when, in November 1987, councillors in Kidlington decided to turn the village into a town. The text of John’s article, originally published in August 2019, is reproduced below.
The captions to the photos in the article read as follows:
top left and right: Kidlington villagers listen intently at a public meeting about becoming a town and vote overwhelmingly to hold a referendum on the issue
centre left: ‘Mayor’ David Ilott
centre right: Malcolm Baker with petition forms containing hundreds of signatures demanding a referendum
bottom left: Success – villagers toast victory after the referendum
bottom right: A simple sign summed up the villagers’ feelings
LOOKING BACK AT THE KIDLINGTON REFERENDUM
The day residents voted to keep their village status by kicking out town bid
PEOPLE power won the day after councillors decided without warning to turn their village into a town. Families in Kidlington were outraged and voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to keep their village status.
Everyone went to bed one night in November 1987 as residents of the country’s largest village and woke up next morning living in a town. With no warning, parish councillors had decided at an evening meeting to adopt town status and elect their chairman, David Ilott, as mayor.
The decision led to a huge public outcry, with people claiming that had not been consulted.
Mr Ilott argued that the change would give Kidlington more influence in council affairs, attract more shops and businesses and thwart any takeover bid from Oxford.
But villagers organised petitions and made their views abundantly clear at a series of public meetings. One resident, Peter Churchill, said of the council’s arguments: “I have never heard such trash. As for status, there is more status being the largest village than a nondescript town.” When Mr Ilott refused demands to stand down, another villager, Honor Pope, said: “I congratulate you, Mr Ilott, on having the thickest hide I have ever encountered.”
The council initially refused to hold a referendum, but changed its mind as pressure grew. When the result was announced in February 1988, 2,836 votes had been cast in favour of staying a village, with just 563 against.
Mr Ilott took the brunt of the criticism. After the referendum, he declared he was still in charge and called a parish council meeting, which none of the other councillors attended. His wife Jane revealed that they had been plagued by abusive phone calls and their children had been subjected to obscene gestures.
Malcolm Baker, one of the leading campaigners, described the outcome as a “victory for democracy.” The people of Kidlington were villagers again and their three months as reluctant townsfolk were over.