The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has called in the decision of the county council’s Planning and Regulation committee to refuse the HIF1 Didcot and surrounding areas infrastructure planning application.
The call-in means there will be an inquiry by a government-appointed planning inspectorate. The Secretary of State will take the final decision about whether to approve the application. The county council’s planning committee voted last week to refuse the application but a decision notice, with reasons for refusal, was not issued. The intervention stops the county council issuing its decision.
Councillor Duncan Enright, Cabinet Member for Travel and Development Strategy at Oxfordshire County Council, whose portfolio includes the HIF1 project said:
“As a council, we are committed to the Didcot and surrounding areas major infrastructure scheme. We are taking stock of the planning committee’s comments and reasons before considering our own next steps.
“The scheme is designed to provide more sustainable travel options in and around Didcot, as well as reducing a legacy of congestion in the surrounding villages and improving air quality and noise levels. It would provide vital transport infrastructure to enable more reliable journey times, improve pedestrian and cycling connectivity, and support allocated housing and employment sites.”
Cllr Enright was due to present the case for the HIF1 application to the planning committee on the first day of the two day hearing but declined to attend on either day.
Oxfordshire County Council’s Planning and Regulation Committee voted decisively 7 to 2 to reject the HIF1 road scheme earlier this week, against the planning officer’s advice. The committee heard objections on its first afternoon of meeting from experts, a retired planning inspector, planning consultants, Oxford City councillors, the Neighbouring Parish Councils Joint Committee, Nuneham Courtenay Parish Council, East Hendred Parish Council, Oxford Friends of the Earth, ORAA and residents who would be badly affected by the scheme. No speakers registered to support the HIF1 application and the sponsoring councillor Cllr Duncan Enright, who was due to address the committee on its first day, decided not to speak.
A second day was spent considering the case made for the scheme by Oxfordshire County Council, the applicant. Material considerations included the planning officer’s report setting out the case for approval, the county council’s own policies including its Climate Action Framework adopted in 2020, its Climate & Natural Environment Plan, adopted in November 2022 and its Local Transport and Connectivity Plan, adopted in July 2022. The latest annual report from the Committee on Climate Change published in June 2023 was a further material consideration.
The HIF1 scheme had been included in the county council’s own transport plan, and in South Oxfordshire’s local plan, and was said to be needed for 15,000 houses planned for Didcot Garden Town, Berinsfield and Culham. However, members questioned how new road building supported the most up to date transport plan to cut one in four car trips by 2030 and for net zero transport by 2050. The Local Transport and Connectivity Plan (LTCP) states: “We have found that road schemes often generate new demand and quickly reach capacity again. It is therefore not a sustainable long term solution for Oxfordshire’s transport network.”
The most recent Climate Change Committee report had not been considered and traffic modelling had not accounted for “induced demand”, meaning car trips are enabled when more roads are built. The effects on the surrounding network had not been considered either.
In the week when southern Europe is in a heat storm with temperatures breaching 44C the planning committee bravely voted 7 to 2 to refuse the application.
ORAA would like to thank everyone for your funds and support.
Oxfordshire Roads Action Alliance (ORAA) has written to Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) expressing concern about the half day allowed to consider the £300m South Oxfordshire HIF1 road planning application next week.
It would be highly unsatisfactory, and arguably unfair, for consultees – the public, statutory and non-statutory consultees, to simply be afforded the standard 3 or 5 minutes to address the Committee as if it were an ordinary planning application. It appears 24 objectors have registered to speak, each allocated 5 minutes.
The original plan for discussing this was to hold a 2-day hearing in late June. That meeting was cancelled and has been replaced by a committee meeting of just half a day on July 17th (with a possible half day extension). This is happening despite the complexity of the issues, which are set out in a 220 page report from a council officer. The committee will need to discuss a full planning application, an Environmental Impact Assessment supported by an Environmental Statement and Transport Assessment, and information arising from various consultations.
Parish councils and environmental groups are deeply worried that Oxfordshire County Council are seeking to push through the controversial South Oxfordshire HIF1 road proposal with minimum debate.
The road scheme is opposed by all the parish councils along the proposed route and by environmental groups including Oxford Friends of the Earth, Oxfordshire CPRE and BBOWT. The County Council planning committee will discuss and vote this on July 17th in a much shorter meeting than as planned last month.
Oxford Friends of the Earth have today mailed every councillor on the planning committee with a 12-page briefing that sets out five reasons why they can and should reject this plan (attached). It shows how the plan:
- Conflicts with existing development plans and policies
- Will not reduce road congestion and is likely to make it worse
- Directly undermines the county councils local transport policy and climate change goals, and
- Will alter the landscape and character of the areas along the route forever
The financial risk
The briefing also set out how this scheme is a gamble with public funds. The road scheme is only part funded by central government The rest of the money needs to be found by the County Council who are exposed to financial risk due to borrowing and inflation (see section 6). Any excess costs will be met by local taxpayers – The Department for Transport ‘s own figures show how most road schemes exceed their budgets.
Chris Church of Oxford Friends of the Earth and a founder of ORAA said:
“This £300 million road scheme is being pushed through by a few councillors And is completely out of line with their transport and climate policies. They talk about their commitment to net zero carbon emissions but this road scheme will generate over 500,000 tonnes of CO2 during construction – that’s 40 times as much as all the county councils annual operations (13,000 tonnes).
The savings they claim from this scheme ignore these construction impacts and the extra traffic that will result from the road and the new developments that will follow. Plans for 15,000 new homes in the area would see thousands more cars trying to access the A34 and the Oxford-Reading road every morning. This makes a mockery of any claims that this road will reduce congestion.
Two weeks ago the government’s own Committee on Climate Change called for a major review of all new road building – to rush this plan through at this time because of funding deadlines is simply very poor planning. 97.5% of those who commented oppose the plan. If this road is needed as much as some councillors claim, where is the support for this?
Our councillors have the opportunity to do the right thing next week – for the communities at risk, for our countryside and climate, and for the future of Oxfordshire. Oxfordshire needs a transport system fit for the 21st century, not one that looks back to the 1960s.
On Thursday afternoon, OCC published a letter on its Planning website (Copy here) which confirms that the HIF1 Planning Application (R3.0138/21) will be heard over two days on 17 & 18 July.
– 17 July 1:00 pm – 6:00 pm
– 18 July 10:00 am – 1:00 pm.
That is only a half day with another half day in reserve for a complex £300m road scheme.
IT IS NOW TIME TO ACT. You can register to speak at the hearing either in person or online via the web. Even if you register you are not obliged to speak if for some reason you cannot do so.
Please consider registering to speak in person or on line by emailing OCC at the address below as soon as possible.
The deadline is 9:00 am Tuesday morning, 11th July. In practice that leaves Monday, 10th July, to do so.
This may be your best last chance to act to protect the environment and the local area from the damage that the HIF1 road will cause.
The planning hearing will be at County Hall, New Road, Oxford OX1 1ND. There will be some placards available for those who wish not to speak but to protest outside. Assemble at 12.30pm.
The county received a total of 201 third party representations during the first round of consultation on the planning application from local residents, interested organisations, district councillors, and developers/landowners associated with land affected by the development or development sites near to it. 195 of these comments expressed concern or stated objection to the proposal and 6 were written in support.
During the second round of consultation on amendments to the proposals and additional environmental information, 168 comments were received. 165 of these were objecting to or raising concerns about the proposals and 3 were written in support. During the third round of consultation, 25 representations were received, 24 of which stated objections to or concerns about the proposal and 1 was written in support.
In spite of this, the Report by the Director of Planning, Environment and Climate Change recommendation is:
It is RECOMMENDED that, subject to the application first being referred to the Secretary of State to consider whether they wish to call it in for their own determination, planning permission for R3.0138/21 be approved subject to conditions to be determined by the Director of Planning, Environment and Climate Change, to include those set out in Annex 1.
Please standby for further updates over the next week.
Thank you for your support.
Oxfordshire Roads Action Alliance
East Hendred Parish Council has made a new and wide ranging objection to the HIF1 River Thames Crossing planning application. Its well researched case against makes very interesting reading and supports objections made by ORAA members that the scheme is a costly gamble that will not solve congestion issues and will wreck the county council’s own climate plans.
If you are considering objecting, it’s not too late. East Hendred’s response was submitted to Oxfordshire County Council on 6th June. It can be read in full here.
The parish, which lies 2 miles to the west of the planned start of the HIF1 project, first objected in March this year. It has since taken advice from a Transport Planner, formerly at Halcrows, Consultant Engineers, and Barton Willmore, Planning Consultants, with experience of modelling the London Docklands DLR River Thames Crossing to Lewisham & Parish Councillor, and made a second objection.
The objection adds to parish council objections, including those from Appleford on Thames, Clifton Hampden and Burcot, Culham, Nuneham Courtenay and Sutton Courtenay.
Hopefully you will have seen our poster boards in various local villages opposing the HIF1 scheme.
If you have not objected to HIF1 and want to, use the Take Action section on ORAA’s website. Follow the Object to Planning Application R3.0138/21 link or email your objection to firstname.lastname@example.org quoting the application number.
Thank you for your support.