What is the Oxford-Cambridge expressway?
A minimum dual carriageway road, up to a three-lane motorway, linking the two cities.
But it’s not just an expressway. The project is also designed to support urban development, with a proposed total of one million new houses overall. Oxfordshire’s share of that total would be more than 300,000 houses; the county’s current total housing stock is only 280,000.
What is the current status of the plans?
Up until September 2018, Highways England was considering three broad corridors, A, B and C for expressway development. In September 2018, it announced it had selected Corridor B as the ‘preferred Corridor’ for future study. At the moment, Highways England is looking at up to 100 or so alternative routes within the preferred corridor. These will be sifted down to about half a dozen that will be presented for (non-statutory) public consultation in Autumn 2019.
The original corridor B was split into B1 (West and North of Oxford), B2 (across Shotover and Otmoor) and B3 (to the South and East of Oxford). Highways England announced a new “Preferred Corridor B” in September 2018, which excludes sub-option B2. The map they provided is “indicative only”. Highways England have confirmed to us that the expressway could go outside the boundaries of the corridor, or in another corridor altogether!
The preferred corridor choice was explained in Highways England’s Corridor Assessment Report (CAR), a 1000+ page document from which comes much of the information used to make the maps on display today.
The below is the map released by Highways England in September 2018 CAR.
Where will the expressway go near Oxford?
Corridor B is split into sub-option B1 going West of Oxford City and sub-option B3 going first South and then East of the city. A route within B1 is likely mostly to follow the A34, from Abingdon to the M40, with a by-pass around the Botley ‘pinch-point’ involving the A420 Swindon to Oxford road (see maps). At M40 J10 the expressway then goes South of Bicester town and then runs more or less parallel to East-West Rail.
A route within B3 will first come South of the City (running near Grenoble Road) and then head for the M40 J8A services, after which it may either follow the M40 for several kilometres to a new junction somewhere in the Oakley/Boarstall area, after which it heads NE towards Calvert/Twyford, or else it will run directly across country from the M40 J8A, again towards Calvert/Twyford. Our display maps show several of these options East of Oxford. Only one route, either West or East of the City, will eventually be chosen for the expressway.
ALL options shown on the maps are advisory only.
What happens next?
The several possible routes identified for the expressway will be made public in Autumn of this year, 2019. We will be allowed to comment on each, and effectively vote for our favoured route (a process Highways England followed for the A27 Arundel bypass ).
There then follows another year during which Highways England itself chooses a preferred route, which is due to be announced in Autumn 2020. We do not know what happens if the public vote does not coincide with Highways England’s preferred route.
Once the final route has been selected Highways England then submits all plans to the Planning Inspectorate. An officially appointed, independent Inspector will examine the plans, and will probably hold public hearings in which there is limited public participation. The entire process takes no more than 14months, at the end of which the Inspector will make a recommendation to the Minister of State for Transport.
When will the expressway be built?
Once approved, construction of the expressway will start in 2025 and is due for completion by 2030.
Where do all the houses fit in?
Highways England is designing an expressway and is not itself directly responsible for planning housing which is regarded as the responsibility of Local Authorities. There is, however, a need to co-ordinate the expressway and housing, and Highways England has ‘modelled’ the capacity of different expressway junctions, from which it derives an estimate of the number extra houses that could be built near to each junction and of the number of workers in those houses. These estimates are shown as histograms on some of the display maps.
Because one of the objectives of expressway development is to ‘unlock the potential’ for development along the Ox-Cam Arc, we think it likely that Highways England will choose a route which is not constrained by present built-up areas. The Highways England model has identified what is labelled as the area ‘East of Oakley’ as the site that can accommodate the largest number of new houses and workers along the entire expressway (82,000 workers equates to a total population of 150,000 people – about the size of Oxford City’s population in 2017 i.e. 154,600).
And is it really one million homes along the Arc by 2050?
The short answer is ‘Yes’, but it’s important to separate houses in Local Plans that would be built anyway (i.e. in the absence of the expressway) and houses uniquely associated with the ‘transformational development’ of the expressway. The plan is that Oxfordshire will have an additional 300,000 homes by 2050; about 100,000 of these are accounted for in current Local Plans with the remainder associated with expressway development. Thus the county’s housing stock and population will increase in size by 100% by 2050. For comparison, the Office of National Statistics reckons that England’s population as a whole will grow by only 16% by 2050.
Similar figure apply across the Arc. For example the parts of Buckinghamshire affected by the expressway will grow by 87% by 2050.
And what about East West Railway?
The Oxford to Bedford section of East West railway is due for completion by 2023. The final Bedford to Cambridge section should be open by 2030. You will be able to travel by train from Oxford to Cambridge by 2030 more quickly than you’ll be able to drive by car along any expressway.
Why have we not heard much about this? How are the decisions being made?
Good question! Normally a project this big would involve public consultation. Because the timings are so tight, Highways England has forgone all that. In fact they say that there are far too many members of the public to consult directly. Instead they imagine our views are represented by Stakeholders who attend occasional closed meetings with Highways England, to hear about progress.
Most stakeholders are commercial enterprises which will benefit from an expressway. Wildlife and other charities are also stakeholders. But the only democratically accountable stakeholders are District and County Councils which should be representing us at stakeholder meetings. In a recent spot survey, no members of the public had any idea who their stakeholders are, or what they are supposed to be doing to represent their interests.
Following an initiative by Tim Dixon of our Horton No Expressway Group (NEG), BBOWT, supported by other NGOs, has challenged the lack of a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA, a usual requirement for such developments) that should have been carried out before the Corridor decision was made. Recently, the High Court supported the BBOWT challenge, the result of which will be a delay during which Highways England must follow the correct procedures.
Isn’t the Green Belt protected from development?
This is a common misconception. Green Belts protect from new housing, not new strategic roads. This government – and Oxfordshire County Council – also say that the Green Belt shouldn’t be sacrosanct from housing when conditions are ‘exceptional’ (e.g. local shortages of land for building houses).
Isn’t the A34 the obvious choice for the expressway?
Many people think so. Highways England’s own costings say it’s £400 million cheaper, too. There are, however, practical problems with rebuilding the Botley interchange. The County Council see this new road as an opportunity to alleviate congestion on the A34 AND have a new Oxford bypass as well.
And let’s not forget, there are important conservation areas along the A34 too, at Cothill Fen, Wytham Woods and Port Meadow. That’s why a Strategic Environmental Assessment – a fair, rigorous, independent process – should have been carried out.
Aren’t you just NIMBYs? Aren’t there always winners and losers with any new road?
We do not think the expressway is justified on economic, social or environmental grounds so we are campaigning to stop it altogether. We are not NIMBYs. We are NIABYs – Not In Anyone’s Back Yard.
I’ve seen signs along the road. What are they doing?
Our signs are designed to raise awareness of the expressway threat to our beautiful countryside, and to maintain that awareness in the months ahead. Most of the signs you see now have been requested (and usually paid for) by the local Parish Councils.
What can I do?
Many organisations in the planning framework are non-governmental; they act in an advisory capacity. We need to target elected politicians to convince them that the whole expressway idea is politically toxic. Email your local MP, or local Councillors, and copy your messages to Rt. Hon. Grant Shapps MP: Secretary of State for Transport who will be making the decision: email@example.com.
Follow us on Facebook, share our posts to spread the word here.
Here are some key websites with information and contact details:
No Expressway Group, NEG. https://www.noexpressway.org
No Expressway Alliance, NEA. https://www.noexpresswayalliance.org
Buckinghamshire Expressway Action Group, BEAG. http://www.beag.org.uk
Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust, BBOWT. https://www.bbowt.org.uk/search?search=expressway
Campaign to Protect Rural England, CPRE. https://www.cpre.org.uk/search?q=expressway
Expressway Action Group, EAG. https://www.expresswayactiongroup.com
Highways England, Ox-Cam Expressway Site. https://highwaysengland.co.uk/projects/oxford-to-cambridge-expressway/
Highways England direct project email address is: OxfordtoCambridgeExpressway@highwaysengland.co.uk