September update: We win our case – but there’s another battle
In July Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) Planning Committee rejected the £300M HIF1 road scheme – they voted 7 to 2 against the scheme and a range of issues where raised showing how flawed the plan was – see below. This is a major victory for us after 18 months of campaigning. Central to the councillors rejection were the fact that this runs against the objectives of their local transport plan – the LTCP – which states that new road schemes are “not a sustainable long term solution for Oxfordshire’s transport network”.
Now the government has ‘called in’ the plan : there will be a public inquiry. This is a very rare procedure for a project that has been rejected, and it is clear that this is being done because the road would open up new areas – some of it Green Belt – for housing. Oxford FoE recognise that Oxfordshire needs new homes but these should be built first and foremost where there is already good transport infrastructure.
There are some serious concerns about the democratic process. It is clear from County Council documents that the Planning and Regulation committee decisions are binding on the whole Council. Yet the Council have refused to issue a formal ‘decision notice’ claiming with no explanation that they do not need to do this and that therefore there “has not yet been a decision” (a claim made in a letter to OxFoE). It seems that the production of a piece of paper is more important than a transparent democratic process.
Why was it rejected?
Those on the County Council cabinet who wanted this project made some wild claims for the benefits. But what the councillors on the Committee heard led them to reject the plan. The reasons for refusal that were mentioned include:
1. Transport and Infrastructure impacts (The application conflicts with the polices in the County Council’s own Local Transport and Connectivity Plan)
2. Carbon emissions and climate impacts (The application was not consistent with Oxfordshire’s Climate Action Framework 2020.).
3. Infrastructure Option Appraisals (No adequate assessment of all infrastructure options and combination was undertaken either before and during detailed design of the scheme).
4. Traﬃc modelling (The modelling failed to consider induced traffic demand and alternatives to the road).
5. Harm, Pollution and Noise (Issues around health, noise and pollution were inadequately treated in the application and the application was not supported by a Health Impact Assessment).
6. Green Belt policies (Much of the housing inked to this would be on Green Belt land.
A longer document on these issues is available here: Reasons for refusal
Our next steps
Our first next step is simple and we need your help.
PLEASE write to your county councillors reminding them that their own committee has refused this application – ask them to:
- Issue a decision notice – the minutes of the meeting make it clear it was refused;
- Withdraw the plan;
- Develop new plans that meet the local needs that are in line with their own LTCP Local Transport Plan;
- Invest instead in public transport infrastructure – a priority in their own local transport plan.
If you don’t know who your County Councillor is check on the ‘Write to Them website:
https://www.writetothem.com/ – enter your postcode and you’ll find your councillors. You can also find them here: https://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/council/about-your-council/oxfordshire-councillors
Oxford FoE has worked closely with local parishes and other groups through the Oxfordshire Roads Action Alliance.
We thank all the people who helped – expert advisors, local organisers, people who signed the petition and turned up to actions, and simply everyone else! We also thank the councillors who voted against this scheme for having the integrity and commitment to stand up and say no.
Remember: OCC’s own 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.”
Construction and operation of the road scheme would generate at least 500,000 tonnes of CO2: OCC’s own operations cause about 13,000 tonnes a year. This will completely undermine your Council’s commitment to reaching Net Zero
You can also read the summary of Oxford Friends of the Earth’s commissioned research that shows how the HIF1 scheme:
• is financially very risky
• won’t solve road congestion (and could make it worse) and
• directly undermines local transport plans and net-zero goals.
The information on this is in the report from Oxford Friends of the Earth can be read here:
Our full research evidence (by an expert economist) shows that this road is incompatible with the County Council’s own transport and climate policies. You can read it here.
The HIF1 Road – undermining some good transport policy.
The HIF1 road will be the biggest road project ever undertaken by OCC. ORAA members are also concerned about other proposed road schemes in the county.
These plans undermine the new County Council ‘Local Transport and Connectivity Plan’ (LTCP). The first target – which ORAA and many others welcome – is to ‘Replace or remove 1 out of every 4 current car trips in Oxfordshire’. The ‘Transport hierarchy’ section stresses that the County Council will ‘develop, assess and prioritise transport schemes that prioritise ‘Walking and wheeling’, ‘Cycling and riding’ and ‘Public transport’. The LTCP aims for a net-zero Oxfordshire transport system by 2040, another target we support.
This road will generate more traffic and merely shift congestion from one site to another. It will increase carbon emissions at a time when we must be cutting them rapidly. It will slice through our countryside and involve a major new bridge over the Thames.
But there’s a bit more to it than that. This road is important not just because of the damage it will do.
It is symptomatic of the poorly planned approaches to growth and new housing across the county over recent years. New houses are proposed so new roads follow. We need a much better system.
The urgent action required on climate change will be set right back. The plans show that the construction of the new road will generate 154,000 tonnes of CO2 (that’s before any car journeys are made). To put that into perspective all of the County Council’s own activities generate just 13,000 tonnes annually.
It also seems likely that the County Council will need to borrow £30M or more to pay towards the costs of this road. Costs have already soared from £218 million to over £300 million. Oxfordshire taxpayers will be footing the bill for years to come.
We can find no evidence (we have asked for it) that this proposal has followed the 2018 government guidance on Transport Appraisal for new roads.
This is the time when Oxfordshire County Council has to work out just how committed to its climate plans it really is. We need councillors to show that commitment and do the right thing.
Our main grounds for objection are:
- We must invest in clean transport rather than new roads. We need to decarbonise our transport system. Transport is the single biggest contributor to the UK’s emissions and is the only sector that has not yet achieved significant reductions from the 1990 baseline. The transport sector needs to reduce emissions by two-thirds over the next ten years if we are to meet national targets.
- New roads designed to ‘relieve’ traffic have repeatedly led to increased traffic in the area. There is ample clear evidence on this.
- This road is likely to take traffic off the A34 that is heading for the M40 and may be part of an ‘Expressway by stealth’. If this road is built there will be pressure for a further new road linking this one to the M40.
- The road proposal is linked to the ‘Oxfordshire Growth Deal’ and to major new housing developments on greenfield sites. The Growth Deal figures for housing need have been widely challenged.
- The proposal has not followed government guidance on ‘Transport Appraisal’. There is no evidence that there has been a full evaluation of all options including not building the road and public transport based solutions.
- This road will cost £294 Million – money that should be invested in clean transport.
The new County ‘LTCP’ transport plan proposes to ‘replace or remove 1 out of every 4 current car trips in Oxfordshire by 2030’. Building this new road will instead increase car trips and undermine the Council’s own plans and commitments to a zero carbon future.