We are still under threat from the Expressway!

 
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Please Note: To better reflect our goals and membership, The Horton cum Studley Expressway Group will now be known as the

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Public Given a Chance to Have Their Say on the Strategic Plan for Oxfordshire’s Develpment Including the Proposed Oxford-Cambridge Expressway – THE OXFORDSHIRE PLAN 2050

DEADLINE MARCH 25, 2019

BUT does this plan provide any real assurance that affordable housing will be built in the right places, that sufficient plans for additional infrastructure needed to support these new homes has been properly budgeted for, that the Ox-Cam Expressway is necessary or desirable, or that all the environmental concerns are being systematically addressed?

The five Oxfordshire authorities are producing a Joint Statutory Spatial Plan (JSSP), providing a framework and evidence base to support sustainable growth across the county up to 2050 and are encouraging the public to add their comments (https://oxfordshireplan.inconsult.uk).  The JSSP is designed to deliver new homes and economic development for the county, as well as necessary   supporting infrastructure.  Few could disagree with an overall vision which promotes ‘richness’, ‘secure and good quality housing’, ‘sustainable travel options’, ‘well-skilled, high value jobs’, and communities ‘resilient to climate change’. 

The Plan largely fails to address how these aspirations will be affected by building a huge number of new houses in the county and the influx of many more residents: the JSSP refers to 100,000 homes to be built by 2031-2036 under the present Oxfordshire Growth Deal.  This represents an increase of over 30% on the current housing stock of approximately 280,000.  The JSSP’s aspiration is to deliver additional housing beyond this total, perhaps as many as 200,000 more, in the period to 2050.  The need for these extra houses is hotly debated, and the JSSP doesn’t say where they will be built.  Much of the additional housing is also associated with plans to build the controversial Oxford-Cambridge expressway, on which there has been no consultation with members of the public in Oxfordshire or anywhere else.

All the aspirational language is hiding huge increases in housing stock and population.  Is it justified?  What are the environmental costs?  Has the national context been considered?  Do we want so much development in this part of the country rather than in the midlands or the north?  And has it been properly costed?  The JSSP talks about housing, but more people has to mean more schools and more hospitals, along with everything else that falls under the general heading of ‘infrastructure’.  At the moment there appears to be an £8 billion funding gap in the infrastructure budget to 2040,as shown in the Oxfordshire Infrastructure Strategy (OXIS) mentioned in the JSSP (https://consultations.oxfordshire.gov.uk/consult.ti/OxIS/consultationHome and https://www.oxfordshiregrowthboard.org/projects/oxis-stage-2/). No mention is made in the JSSP of this hole in the budget beyond stating the obvious:  ’However, there is still a funding gap and deliverability issues for many strategic projects and so their delivery is not guaranteed.  A bold, forward thinking Oxfordshire Plan that sets a clear vision for growth is more likely to release opportunities for Government funding…’ 

It is extremely difficult to argue with the utopian vision set out in the plan, but do we actually need the number of houses it advocates and how is the black hole in the infrastructure budget to be filled?  As part of the process, the authorities are committed to ensuring there will be “early, proportionate and meaningful engagement between plan makers and communities, local organisations, businesses, infrastructure providers and statutory bodies.”  The public is invited to visit the website (https://oxfordshireplan.inconsult.uk) where there are links to consultation questionnaires that can be filled in online.  The JSSP also assumes that the Oxford-Cambridge expressway will go ahead.  This is therefore the public’s first real opportunity to challenge this assumption, and the implications for development throughout the county. The deadline for responding is March 25, 2019. 

For more information contact David Rogers 01865 351348 (david.rogers@zoo.ox.ac.uk) or Sarah Foxcroft 01865 358928

 

GOOD NEWS!

BBOWT Response to Oral Hearing at High Court

Read about BBOWT’S legal challenge here.

 The High Court has accepted Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust’s (BBOWT) claim against the government regarding the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway at an oral hearing at the High Court today.

 After having been refused permission in January to bring a claim against the government, the charity applied to the court to revisit their decision at today’s hearing, and they are delighted that the original decision has been overturned.

 In November 2018, BBOWT issued a claim in the High Court, challenging the government’s failure to commission a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) or a Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA) as part of the process of selecting a ‘Growth Corridor’ (within which the Expressway and associated housing will be built).

 BBOWT is therefore arguing that the government has failed to assess the environmental impact of its plans, before choosing the corridor of land within which the Expressway and related housing will be built.

 In response to the High Court decision, Matthew Stanton, Head of Planning, Policy and Advocacy, at Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust, said:

 “We are so pleased with today’s decision surrounding the government’s proposed corridor for the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway. We were forced to bring legal proceedings because the government has completely ignored European law, which requires a Strategic Environmental Assessment for schemes that impact on the environment such as this.

 “Today shows us that the government has a case to answer and we look forward to fighting for wildlife at the full hearing.

 “We will continue to scrutinise the government’s future consultations, defend wildlife in the planning process, and make sure that the potential impact of this concrete corridor is fully assessed and made public.

 “The Oxford to Cambridge Expressway could be a disaster for wildlife, and future generations may not forgive us.”

 Tom Short, solicitor for BBOWT, said:

 “The court has agreed with our client that there is an arguable case to be heard and we look forward to a substantive hearing of the important issues raised. BBOWT believes that the Government has failed to properly consider at an early stage the environmental consequences of a major infrastructure project.

 “Although a public consultation is due to take place, the Government has missed a key opportunity to listen to the public and environmental organisations and ensure that their concerns are taken into account early in the decision-making process. By ignoring concerns and refusing to undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment key stakeholders and members of the public have been alienated from the process.”

Notes for editors:

 1.     At the end of October 2018, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave his support for the National Infrastructure Commission’s recommendation to build up to one million new homes in the vicinity of the Expressway. This could see the number of homes across Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes nearly double.

 2.     We have the support of The Wildlife Trusts nationally, and witness statements backing our case have been supplied by RSPB, Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Plantlife and Horton cum Studley Expressway Group. We also have the support of the River Thame Conservation Trust and The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, and some parish councils located within the areas that are in danger of being affected by the development.

 3.     BBOWT is calling for a legal commitment in the forthcoming Environment Act to the production of Nature Recovery Network maps that require decision makers to work within environmental limits and ensures we pay back the damage of the past by restoring our ecosystems.

 

WE ARE STILL

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On 12 September, 2018 the Government announced that Corridor B had been chosen for the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway.

The Government’s full report can be read here.

The No Expressway Group’s Press Release in response to the announcement.

However, on January 11th, 2019 the Roads Minister, Jesse Norman MP, said the following in a parliamentary Adjournment debate on the expressway, called by Layla Moran (Lib Dem Oxford West/Abingdon):

“As I said, we haven't made any pre-judgements.  Our very strong preference is not to cross Otmoor.  We have therefore selected options that do not do that. We have given that very clear signal. But it's important to say that we are still at the relatively early stage of the process and therefore our preferred routes are just that, and subject to further discussions, consultation and review.  The Government and Highways England need to do serious further analytical work to develop, design and route options that are workable for the communities and the environment that facilitate movement and that ease travel for people both working and at leisure.  As has been mentioned, there are considerable constraints in relation to Oxford, of many different kinds, and these are part of the wider process of evaluation...." 

 
 
 

If we don’t protect our Countryside, who will?

 
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Where did the idea of the expressway and one million new houses between Oxford and Cambridge come from?

-        The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) (non-Governmental, works with the Treasury in an advisory capacity) suggested the idea to capitalise on the technological and other outputs of the two Universities to stimulate the UK economy.  Lord Adonis was Chair of the NIC Committee producing this idea (he had earlier suggested HS2) and key Reports about the expressway appeared in November 2017.  Clearly a great deal of work and consultants’ hours had been spent before this date.

-        The NIC Report stressed the need for houses for the new jobs that would be generated along the corridor.  The expressway arises from the need to connect the houses to the jobs (a better road network would allow workers to commute from greater distances!).

What is an Expressway?

-        A minimum dual carriageway road, up to a three-lane highway.  An expressway differs from a motorway in having more entrance and exit points.

And how many houses?

 -        The November 2017 NIC Reports suggested that one million ‘new’ homes would be built along the Oxford-Cambridge expressway (to house 1.9 million people).  Oxfordshire’s share of that total would be more than 300,000 houses; the county’s current total housing stock is only 280,000.

Oxford City has 55,400 households, so the additional houses for the county are equivalent to about 6 new Oxford’s or 21 Bicesters.

-        There has been huge subsequent debate on whether it’s one million totally new homes or one million homes including those already in the planning pipeline.  It seems to be the latter, but estimates suggest that more than half of the total is due the expressway alone. 

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So, who is in charge now?

-        Much of the recent work on the expressway has been done by Highways England, HE, (a Government Company, working for the NIC).  It has produced numerous Reports on how best to spread one million homes  across the countryside (as a few major new cities, or sprinkling them among existing settlements?) and then how best to connect these homes to the imagined jobs the residents will do.

When will the Expressway be built?

-        Once approved, construction of the Expressway will start in 2025 and is due for completion by 2030.  The one million extra homes are due to be delivered by 2050.

How will it be funded?

-        The expressway is costed at £3.5 billion but it is not clear what this sum refers to.  It appears that the Government hopes that a levy on all those new homes will pay for some or all of the expressway.

But isn’t there going to be a new Railway line too?

-        Yes, the Government is committed to re-opening the Oxford to Cambridge Varsity line, the East West Railway (EWR), the first section of which (Oxford to Bedford) was confirmed before the recent Parliamentary recess.  This section is due for completion by 2023.  The Bedford to Cambridge section (route still to be decided) is due to be opened by 2030.

If we have a railway, why do we also need a road?

-        This is a very good question to which there is no obvious answer.  Railways solve the difficult ‘first mile’/ ‘last mile’ problem, of getting out of or into town from the ring road.  Additional roads will only add to congestion and pollution.  NO2 pollution levels in Oxford City Centre exceeded European standards at 24% of monitored sites in 2017.  The Oxford FoE Expressway Alliance position is to finish the EWR before even considering building more roads.

 
 
 

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