The idea of a tax on visitors to Oxford is unlikely to go down well with everyone in these bleak economic times. Just imagine the response of tourists being presented with a hotel bill, which includes an additional charge to help maintain Oxford streets, or improve the city’s facilities.

An Oxford visitors’ tax? It is total madness.

But this radical answer to some of the city’s funding problems was being put to me by Tony Joyce, who after a decade as the head of Oxford Civic Society, is to stand down as its chairman.

Needless to say within three minutes of listening to Mr Joyce carefully setting out his case, I recognised there was indeed a case. After five, it seemed entirely reasonable that millions of visitors should be making a financial contribution to our great city.

For as usual, Mr Joyce had given the matter considerable thought. And as usual, the purpose of his proposal was to make Oxford a better place, or at least to resist any further deterioration through lack of investment or fear of thinking the unthinkable.

Since becoming the society’s chairman, Mr Joyce, 81, has certainly taken to heart the society’s mission to protect Oxford’s heritage and the quality of Oxford’s built-up environment, and its impact on people’s daily lives.

He has been at the forefront of the battles to secure a viable future for Oxford Museum and to bring about the extension of the city’s park-and-rides. He helped mastermind the launch of the city’s annual spring clean, OxClean, helped oversee the development of the Oxfordshire Blue Plaque scheme (to commemorate sites of historic interest), while being a prominent figure in just about every planning battle, from the redevelopment of the Oxford Brookes campus in Gipsy Lane to car parking around the John Radcliffe Hospital.

But as he prepares to make way for Peter Thompson, the retired chartered civil engineer who is the society’s new chairman, Mr Joyce said he had no intention of abandoning the many causes dear to his heart.

Between 1968 and 1972 Mr Joyce served as the usher (deputy head) at Magdalen College School, Oxford, later becoming head of Lancaster Royal Grammar School and Plymouth College.

But he returned to live in Headington on his retirement in 1992, becoming secretary of Highfield Residents’ Association and a founder member of the co-ordinating committee of Headington Residents’ Association, which he later chaired.

Things were certainly beginning to move fast in Oxford, with the exception of traffic coming into the city, when he succeeded Edwin Townsend-Coles as chairman of Oxford Civic Society.

“At the time the Oxford Transport Strategy was being introduced, there were plans for the development of the castle site, the pedestrianisation of Cornmarket and Broad Street were all under discussion, along with the move of the Radcliffe Infirmary to the John Radcliffe.”

Mr Joyce said he had no regrets about throwing his weight behind the OTS, which many blame for the congestion and clutter at Frideswide Square. He believes national legislation has not helped, meaning Oxford has had to wait years for joint bus company ticketing and timetables, still in the process of being introduced.

“We also waited years after OTS was introduced to see the bus gates in the High Street. No one has ever seen the Oxford Transport Strategy working as it was fully designed.”

For him securing “a highly developed system of public transport” remains the key.

“I don’t believe the geography of Oxford lends itself to congestion charging without imposing restrictions on people getting about the city. There will always be the need for some people to get about by car.”

He remains frustrated that cost-cutting will rob the city of extensions to the city’s park-and-rides and their waiting facilities, which he has long campaigned for.

“The facilities are a portal for visitors coming into Oxford. The quality of the provision there says a lot about what we think of our city. Park-and-rides are an example of where Oxford has suffered through being the first in the field, with others being able to learn from our experience.

“Another disappointment has been the failure to establish a new, improved station at Oxpens.”

His efforts to save Oxford Museum look likely to be more successful. The future of the museum will be discussed next month by the city council executive board — and Mr Joyce says he is optimistic about the outcome.

He said: “A great deal of work has been done on the future of the museum and the exciting role it could play, while increasing the attractiveness of the Town Hall as a venue to visitors.”

The proposals, he hopes, will forge closer links between the museum and Town Hall, with an extended café and more shop space reinforcing the rearranged collections.

Mr Joyce believes one of the lessons that has emerged in the Oxford Museum saga is that there is real advantage in local government tapping into the expertise and enthusiasm in communities across Oxford.

OxClean, which sees hundreds of volunteers taking to the streets of Oxford every March to give their city a spring clean, he argues, is another example of this.

Sir Hugo Brunner, the former Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire who is now president of the society, summed up the ‘Joyce approach’. “Tony is no firebrand, but he is resolute, even brave. And his concern is for the whole city, as much for the disadvantaged areas as for the historic city centre.”

Although he has moved to live in Blenheim Drive, North Oxford, he remains much preoccupied with the issues of Headington. He is now a voice supporting residents who speak of student ghettos being created.

He said: “As far as houses of multiple occupation are concerned, the unregulated market means you get concentrations of students, which mean normal residential life of the community almost ceases.”

The city’s failure to benefit from some nine million visitors a year is another issue exercising him, which brings us back to the idea of an Oxford tax.

“We have such a huge number of visitors to the city but we seem to be remarkably ineffective in capitalising on this. We have to find a way of getting visitors to contribute to what they enjoy when they come here. We need them to contribute more to creating far better facilities in the city that benefit both themselves and local people.

“I would like to see a visitor tax. It happens in other places, although not in this country. It could be applied to those staying overnight in the city like a hotel tax. It could be done by adding a small charge to hotel bills, with the money going towards paving, toilets and other improvements to the public realm. In my view nothing would put visitors off coming to Oxford. The reason visitors often don’t come a second time is because we do not provide them with good enough facilities.

“We just can’t afford to cope with nine million visitors on limited resources. You only have to look at all the discussion about the provision of public toilets in the city and how difficult the city is finding it to make proper provision because the council does not have the money.”

But it does have the Oxford Civic Society, and with Mr Joyce perhaps to become its vice-president, advice and ideas will remain as plentiful as ever.