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.