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 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 That meeting was cancelled and has been replaced by a committee meeting of just half a day on July 17th (with a possible half day extension).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 email@example.com quoting the application number.
Thank you for your support.
What an exciting day it turned out to be for Oxfordshire Roads Action Alliance (ORAA). Over forty people including landowners, local residents and representatives of interested groups gathered in Didcot for the launch. It was a great success with many people staying on beyond the end of the meeting to continue to network. One of the takeaway messages was that people want better public transport and a real alternative to spending hours driving.
The launch was opened and chaired by Cllr Sam Casey-Rerhaye (South Oxfordshire DC & Culham Parish Council) who welcomed everyone and thanked them for coming. She introduced Greg O’Broin, resident of Appleford and joint chair of ORAA. Greg said that ORAA is a community alliance and campaign group that opposes unsuitable and unsustainable road development that will drive up traffic and pollution and overall make congestion even worse
Greg, who is also chair of Appleford Parish Council, explained that ORAA’s initial priority was to focus on the HIF1 road scheme, which will be the largest road building project undertaken by Oxfordshire County Council (OCC). It is a nine-mile arterial link road with numerous junctions, flyovers and bridges going from the A34 in the west to a B road just short of Nuneham Courtenay in the east. Its estimated cost is around £300 million including a £30 million contribution from OCC.
With rampant inflation and labour shortages in the construction sector, nobody believes HIF1 can be delivered within budget or on time. That is a delusion that OCC continues to promote, which could result in local taxpayers having to fund any shortfall on top of the £30 million they have already been signed up for. Greg called on OCC to scrap the scheme and invest instead in better alternatives.
Anthony Mockler who is a land owner, farmer and local resident, told the audience that he had offered his land for housing on the basis it will be used for car free development. Disappointingly, OCC had showed no interest in this and just wanted to take his land for a dual carriageway. He had discovered that there were 16 alternative (feasible) options but that they had all been arbitrarily dismissed. Yet most people were unaware of this fact. He was concerned that the shear volume of documentation was overwhelming councillors and members of the public. It’s a trick that enables developers to hide the true impacts of what is proposed.
Chris Church, director of Oxford Friends of the Earth and co chairman of ORAA then explained that this is a six year old legacy project that contradicts OCC’s own climate change policies. It will wreck OCC’s climate reduction objectives and will generate over 154,000 tonnes of CO2 aside from the other environmental damage it will cause, which has not been adequately assessed.
Building the HIF1 scheme is in contradiction of the new Local Transport and Connectivity Plan (LTCP) which seeks to reduce car journeys and deliver net zero transport system. It is basically an outer ring road for South Oxford that will ultimately lead to an M40 link.
However, he stressed HIF1 wasn’t a done deal, even more so in the current financial crisis. He pointed to recent history to show that road schemes could be stopped or diverted, mentioning the scrapping of the Oxford-Cambridge expressway and before that the campaign that got the line of the M40 moved to avoid it cutting through Otmoor.
Panellist, Councillor Charlie Hicks revealed that there was concern amongst councillors about the project. Financial pressures may cause elements of the HIF1 scheme to be descoped. There is reason for hope he said and it is possible this project may not happen at all.
He also stressed there was a need to decouple housing from cars and that the Council had already changed its approach to this.
Jenny Raggett, from Transport for New Homes explained that housing plans in Oxfordshire have all the hallmarks of car dependent developments with 40% of the land devoted to roads and parking space. The houses are small with tiny gardens and few amenities. TfNH has labelled these sorts of developments as ‘Chipping Tarmac’. They are places where all outdoor social interaction requires driving somewhere to parks, shops, schools or other facilities. They are not great places to live.
She said that new roads are sold to communities as a solution to traffic congestion, yet people’s experience contradicts this – rising traffic everywhere. With a 215,000 population in South Oxfordshire people deserve decent public transport infrastructure.
Simon Lazare, a retired Chartered Engineer with experience of large projects in the U.K. and internationally and a resident of a Sutton Courtenay outlined the reasons why major projects fail. In his presentation, Simon explained that the HIF1 scheme ticks all right boxes for being at risk. Large Projects suffer from an optimism bias and reluctance to admit when things go wrong. OCC are making a mistake in promoting a flexible approach as it will be harder to sign off on and at risk from rising prices. He said that taxpayers should be concerned as they will have to foot the bill for any cost increases.
Finally, attendees were shown a short video from Professor John Whitelegg who had recorded a message for the meeting as he was unable to attend in person.
There was then a lively discussion and debate. The was great enthusiasm for ORAA and people were keen to get started on campaign against the costly and highly damaging HIF1. If you would like to join ORAA, please sign up here.