Oxfordshire Roads Action Alliance (ORAA) is a non-profit making community organisation that works with parish councils, residents and other groups to encourage sustainable infrastructure that will support development in Oxfordshire.

ORAA is truly shocked that the decisive vote to refuse Oxfordshire County Council’s £296m million HIFl road scheme [1] in July [2] has been undermined by an Extraordinary Meeting of the Council’s Planning Committee on 27 September [3]. The meeting was informed by an officer’s report [4] which was both misleading and failed to properly address the eight reasons given for refusal. Nothing has changed since July to justify changing or amending the decision or reasons for refusal. All eight reasons are as valid today as they were in July. It also proposed delegating further decisions to officers who had supported the scheme in the first place.

The extraordinary meeting and questionable call-in [5] were made possible by the Council’s continued refusal to issue a Decision Notice, despite the decisive and unequivocal vote by the Planning Committee to reject the HIFl scheme.
Greg O’Broin, chair of the neighbouring parishes Joint Committee [6] said:

“It is extremely concerning that a lawful decision of the Planning Committee can be neutralised and effectively reversed. Not only is the call-in of a refused application by the Secretary of State highly unusual but for Oxfordshire County Council to seek to achieve approval through the back door at a Planning Inquiry contrary to its own committee’s decision is undemocratic.”

At the extraordinary meeting of the Planning Committee, the Director of Planning, acknowledged there were harms inherent in the application, such as the noise impact at Appleford [7], and the impact on landscape [8], which will change the nature of certain places from rural to suburban, but claimed the benefits outweighed these harms. Council Leader, Cllr Liz Leffman said that while the scheme was not perfect, “the perfect should not be the enemy of the good”. However, the Planning Committee who sat through two days of evidence in July disagree. Seven (circa 80%) of the members of that Committee concluded the scheme is deeply flawed.

ORAA is concerned about the absence of traffic impact on Didcot and Abingdon. The latter is only two miles from the nearest roundabout on the planned route and it is unbelievable that the traffic impact on the town has not been assessed. Residents of Sutton Courtenay are concerned that traffic will use the Drayton Road as a rat run to and from Abingdon, let alone the increased congestion at Abingdon Bridge. Abingdon is already heavily congested and the HIFl scheme will make it worse.
And where will the traffic heading towards the Golden Balls Roundabout go? HIFl will disgorge large
volumes of traffic onto a Broad (B4015 ).

Another concern is that Oxfordshire’s Local Transport and Connectivity Plan {LTCP) [9] which was only adopted last year, is already being undermined by officers.
Professor Phil Goodwin [10] in his comments to the Council’s Scrutiny Committee in 2022 heavily criticised the underlying modelling and scheme. He said any benefit will be very short lived and noted that by 2034 average speed will fall back to 18.1 mph, which is slower than 2020.
It was admitted by officers that the road modelling had been compiled before the new policy was adopted. They claimed that by aiming for a 20% reduction in car traffic, this road development met the LTCP policy. Yet at no point did officers address the fact that this would significantly undermine the targets in the LTCP for a 25% reduction in car traffic by 2030 and a 50% reduction in car traffic by 2040. The model does not take into account induced demand and assumes there will be as many cars on the road with the scheme as without it. The OR claims the scheme will help the climate by reducing congestion. These claims are incredulous. At the Planning Meeting in July, Councillors said frankly they did not believe the traffic modelling.

Chris Church, chair of ORAA- Oxfordshire Roads Action Alliance, said:

“This is another legacy scheme, thought up long before the Paris Agreement or the need for net zero was recognised. We have officers claiming that it meets the council’s transport policy when it clearly undermines the council’s own traffic reduction targets and climate ambitions.
“Officers and councillors claim the road is needed for new housing development but haven’t explained what infrastructure and services will be required to deliver a 50% cut in car traffic by 2040. While provision for active travel is welcome, it will not deliver a sufficient reduction in car usage on its own.

This debacle illustrates why local planning authorities should not be able to decide their own development proposals. As much as officers and councillors might try and create a separation, the reality is that this is almost impossible when they are naturally all interacting with each other on a regular basis. This is even harder when politicians in Didcot and elsewhere are calling for the road to be built ignoring the impact it will have on Abingdon and local villages. Officers have spent years promoting development on the back of new roads and this needs to change.
Ironically, the scheme does not conform to Gove’s vision of developing in built up areas to spare the countryside, made in a speech the day before he called in the application [11] following representations from Grant Shapps, then the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero.

While funding is not a planning issue, for Oxfordshire County Council this is all about retaining £240M funding from Homes England for a scheme costing £296M that cannot be delivered at that price.
Following the recent report into children’s services, Cllr. Leffman said Oxfordshire County Council need to listen more. That failing has been the experience of residents and parishes during consultation on this scheme. They too readily dismiss alternatives and the argument that HIFl is the only solution available is lazy and spurious.

Would it not be better to spend the £30 million Oxfordshire will borrow for this scheme on children’s services and go back to the government for funding a series of smaller schemes with some elements of the HIFl scheme but focused on improved public transport links at the core?


Contact ORAA: Chris Church at chrischurch@cooptel.net and phone 07710409590 (from 3 Oct)
Contact NPC-JC: Greg O’Broin at applefordpcworkinggroup@gmail.com and 07768 490 277

Notes to Editors

1 The HIFl scheme is a 9 mile, £296 million major road from the A34 at Milton to the Oxford Road (B4015) near Nuneham Courtenay. It is designed to open up significant areas of greenfield for development and will encroach on the Green Belt.
2 The application was considered over 2 days on 17 & 18 July 2023 by Oxfordshire County Council’s Planning & Regulation Committee. The vote was 7 – 2 against the scheme.
3 The Extraordinary Planning & Regulation Committee MeetingLwas held on 27 September 2023 to discuss the reasons for refusal and to consider whether to maintain any or all of the reasons in their submission to the Planning Inspector. In effect seeking to water down or remover the Council’s opposition to its own planning application.

The Committee was asked to adopt a neutral position on the Planning Inquiry and to delegate to the Director of Planning, who recommended approval of the scheme, the authority to coordinate documents and participate in the Inquiry as she considers appropriate.
1 The officer’s report was criticised on several areas and the fact that it recommended delegating further decisions to officers who had recommended acceptance of the scheme in the first place.

1 The call-in of the application by Michael Gove is considered to be ultra vires Section 77 of the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act and that Article 31 of the 2015 Development Management Procedure Order can’t prohibit the issue of a Decision Notice in the case of a refusal of planning permission. The Article only prohibits a grant of permission.

1 The Neighbouring Parish Council Joint Committee (NPC-JC), represents the parishes of Appleford, Sutton Courtenay, Culham, Burcot and Clifton Hampden and Nuneham Courtenay along the route of the road. All oppose the scheme.

1 The noise will reach SOAEL-Significant Observed Adverse Effect Level at 19 dwellings in Appleford (we say more). This is the level above which presents significant adverse effect on health.

[8]. The scheme will take over 300 acres from the natural environment (equivalent to over 200 football pitches) and will remove 169 mature trees (& 283 tree features-tree groups, hedges etc) from the landscape particularly at Clifton Hampden.

[9] Oxfordshire’s Local Transport and Connectivity Plan was adopted in July 2022.

[10]. Professor Phil Goodwin is a Senior Fellow of the Foundation for Integrated Transport and Emeritus Professor of Transport Policy at University College London. He formerly lived in Oxford and is familiar with the area.

[11] Extract from Michael Gove’s speech made on 24 July 2023:
“It is better for the environment, the economy, for productivity and we/I-being if we use all of the levers that we have to promote urban regeneration – rather than swallowing up virgin land.

“That is why we will enable brownfield development rather than green belt erosion, sustainable growth rather than suburban sprawl.

“So the economic and environmental imperatives all point towards a move away from a /and-hungry destruction of natural habitats in favour of a much more efficient regeneration of our cities.”