Christmas Wishes from ORAA

We would like to thank everyone for their support during 2023 and wish you all a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas and New Year

Gove calls in P&R Committee refusal of HIF1 planning application

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 seeking to rush through controversial road proposal

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.

The issues

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.