Should Oxfordshire Grow? – the Proposed Expressway
A public debate in Oxford Town Hall,17th June 2019
18 June 2019
Packed to the gunwales, this Civic Society debate was overwhelmingly against the proposed Expressway, a major motorway which would run close to Oxford from Didcot over to Cambridge. The planned road would be parallel to a new railway and would include 13 junctions, each with 30,000 –or more- new houses nearby. This idea comes from Highways England, linked to the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) and a more detailed report is due this Autumn.
Chaired by Sir Clive Booth, the main speakers were Councillor Ian Hudspeth, Conservative leader of the County Council, and Professor Danny Dorling. An acutely difficult task faced Councillor Hudspeth in trying to convince the audience that there are some redeeming features in the proposal. He insisted that the evidence of high growth rates, both of jobs and people, be confronted. The congestion and inadequacy of the A34 is a major problem. The ‘knowledge spine’ giving rise to the NIC’s proposals should be a matter of pride. He stressed that he, too, favours a mass transit system, using modern ‘green friendly’ power sources. He reminded us that as our Highways Authority, Oxfordshire CC has already ensured that an additional Oxford-London Chiltern Line rail link exists, with Oxford Expressway as a relief on car commuting and an A40 bus lane is agreed. Plans for re-locating Park and Ride further from Oxford city centre are also being prepared.
Professor Dorling adopted a more macro view in that he sees the NIC proposal as a further device to increase already unacceptable levels of inequality in our county and city. He pointed to better practices in cities such as Freiburg, Groningen and Copenhagen. (An audience member also praised Japan’s policy of reducing car and increasing rail travel.). Professor Dorling recognises Oxford’s growth has reached its physical limits and believes the city’s ‘edges’ need to be re-negotiated. However, along with many audience speakers, he warned of the dangers and unacceptability of more roads; CO2, nitrous oxides, particulates have to be eliminated as do the deaths and injuries linked to an excessive reliance on motor vehicles for people and goods. Children having to negotiate a 50mph A40 at Barton in order to get to school is shocking.
Several other speakers urged the District Authorities, as well as the City of Oxford, to use their planning powers more effectively so that housing and other building developments can be more securely linked to transportation systems, the responsibility of the County Council. How far do any of these genuinely acknowledge the Climate Emergency we now confront? How far do they see that farmland and bio-diversity are of increasing importance? Can new housing really be car based? Won’t computer modelling clearly demonstrate the Expressway increases rather than reduces road congestion? And so on, well into the night……..