WOT was that about?

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Summing up the WOT “Unblocking the A40” Seminar, 10 November, Oxford

If you have been following our campaign you couldn’t have missed the seminar we organised a couple of weeks ago in Oxford.  Before, during and after the event we received a number of questions and we thought it would be useful to address some of these issues in a Q&A format (the questions have been re-edited as several were similar):

Why did you organise this event in Oxford and not in Witney?

Two fundamental reasons.  The first is that traffic alongside the A40 is both ways and it affects people in Oxford too.  The second is eminently practical.  We had speakers and guests travelling by train and there was simply no way they could have come to a public venue on time in Witney.  Those who commute from Oxford to Witney daily will know what we are talking about.  There was nothing more complex or sinister in the decision and the majority of our regular meetings are held in the Carterton/Witney/Eynsham areas.

How did you select the speakers?

We wanted to bring in a range of expertise and visions.  Ray provided the urban planner expertise, as well as his own joined up vision of a regional approach that might even go beyond our local stretch of the A40.  Roger came from one of our funders, Railfuture, to offer us his own perception of how these things work in terms of looking at strategic partnerships, as well as looking at opportunities in view of recent legislative changes.  Finally we couldn’t have wished for a better overall public transport expert with Stephen from CBT (Campaign for Better Transport) and his huge knowledge of these matters not only at local but also international level.

What did you want to achieve?

In a year which has seen fundamental shifts in this country’s political and economic landscape you could forgive our key stakeholders for taking their eyes off the ball, with the risk that more time would be wasted before anything was done to alleviate the situation.  A public meeting was our way of telling them that we are very much in the business of ensuring this problem should continue to be a top priority.  Furthermore, we also wanted to demonstrate that what we had brought to the table on previous occasions and in several semi-private meetings at council and district level was also backed by the public and by even more experts.   Lastly, we simply need the support of as many people and local organisations as possible to achieve our objectives.  It would have been unrealistic to have set more specific goals, like expecting to have total agreement for a specific solution.  The debate itself demonstrated the variety of interests and approaches.

Are the presentations available?

Yes, just go on the Past Events page and you will be able to download a PDF of each of the two presentations (there were no Powerpoint slides from Roger).

What are you planning to do next?

We are planning to organise a summit of all local parish councils in the new year during which we will discuss more specific details of our approach as well as exchanging information on some highly technical issues related to the proposed short term improvements to the A40

Do you favour a specific solution?

Many of us see a public transport option (rail or similar) as the best possible alternative.  We are not naturally opposed to the dualling of the A40, but we simply do not think that this alone could possibly provide a solution.  The travel pattern in our District is just too complex and, just as a mere example, even 15 years ago the County council wanted to dual the A40 *and* create a parallel public transport link all the way from Witney to Oxford.  If there was such need back then we could easily argue this is even more urgent now.  

Right now our main concern is that any land where the old rail link was sited is safeguarded.  Once the land is built up it would be much more difficult to reclaim it.   So it must be protected together with its essential infrastructure such as bridges and so on.

Why public transport?

There are two good reasons.  The first is strategic. You can’t just rely on a simple transport mode.  You couldn’t have just a few roads going from Bristol to London and no other form of transport. It would have engendered chaos and stifled economic growth.  So we need an alternative.  Public transport of the right kind, where vehicles follow their own independent tracks, is reliable by definition as a customer can plan a journey and reach their destinations within set times.  Everyone who uses trains, metros or the London river boats know this. You know the time your service will pass by your stop and when you will reach your destination.

Do you have any documentation?

We have amassed a very large library of documents, from the original Mott Macdonald report to more recent ones and more. Just drop us a line for information.

Are your regular meeting public?

Yes. We meet at least monthly and mainly at Freeland Parish Hall.  We publish the meeting dates on Facebook and on our website.  Everyone is welcome to attend.

How can we get in touch?

Easy.  Just drop us a line or follow us on our social media channels.

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Tunnels and all

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No light at the end of the tunnel

In a desperate attempt to placate public opinion in the light of the currently dire transport situation in and around Oxford some of our local politicians are throwing around ideas on massive infrastructural schemes almost similar in scale to the proposed (and aborted) Thames estuary airport.   From ‘futuristic’ tramways cutting into St Giles, monorails criss-crossing swathes of our beautiful countryside and leading nowhere, to the latest idea – tunnelling under Oxford – there is no limit to a politician’s imagination at times of trouble and quite close to a general election.

The idea of boring under a city which, as the Oxford Field Observatory describes as placed on “…shallow, highly permeable alluvial sediments … rivers and streams that flow across it are well connected to the groundwater within the sediments. Groundwater levels are generally no deeper than 2m below ground level.” is quite frankly mind boggling.  While it isn’t of course impossible to tunnel underwater, it’s definitely horrendously expensive.  Why can’t we think of spending less on much more pragmatic solutions?

Anyone who has lived in Oxfordshire for a number of years has noticed an increase in commuting times in and around the main urban areas.  The causes behind increased traffic congestion are complex but range from lack of planning, demographics, the economic situation and, as we have just noticed, topographical.  If to all this we add bad planning (like scheduling major improvements simultaneously in order to make use of central funds by the end of a fiscal year) we can see that we have in our hands a recipe for disaster.

So in the light of all this could we please, please, for once take the trouble of consulting with experts, urban planners, architects and transport specialist first, so that we could really create long term plans, rather than running around fire-fighting and advocating, when cornered, implausible solutions?

Quite how Oxford and surrounding areas could cope with what Councillor Ian Hudspeth, leader of Oxfordshire County Council mentioned when interviewed recently forecasting 85,000 new jobs and 100,000 new homes up to 2031 remains a mystery, unless common sense and proper  long term planning returns to the table.

 

 

A journey to better transport

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The editor of the Oxford Mail has recently added his voice to the chorus of concern on local transport when it was reported that the previous day it had taken commuters over three hours to reach Oxford from Witney.

For those who are commuting daily on that route the misery has only exacerbated due to a combination of crumbling infrastructure, roadworks around Oxford and simply increased traffic.  Matters will not improve substantially either by simply extending a junction or adding a new lane here and there.  Oxfordshire, and West Oxfordshire in particular, has been starved of real investments for far too long.

Council planners had identified potential problems way back in 2001, yet thirteen years later we are still waiting for a solution. It has now become an emergency.

Quick fix risk

The risk now is that officials may be tempted to rush into a quick fix, throwing a few millions here and there, not enough for a well planned long term solution, but just sufficient for palliative measures.  We cannot afford to go down that road.  We don’t need a sticky plaster, but a robust and future proof transport infrastructure project.

While we have always advocated an agnostic approach to transport modes we cannot remain silent when we see that things are heading in the wrong direction.  There are non negotiable elements to any transport plans for our region and these are:

  • Reliability and proven track record
  • Sustainability
  • Integration with other transport modes
  • Low visual impact
  • Proven ROI over a medium/long term period

The next few months will be crucial.  Expect a flurry of interest especially as we approach general elections.  Expect some harebrained proposals too, as the smell of big money will inevitably attract unscrupulous entrepreneurs.  If you feel strongly about what we stand for join us so that we can have an even louder voice on the decision making process.

On the futility of dualling roads

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More road building?

At long last our politicians have awaken to one of the major problems affecting our District: there can be no further economic development around Witney/Carterton unless something is done to alleviate congestion on the A40 to to Oxford.

In between the totally insane (like providing monorails or cable cars) there has been some decent debate too, but it’s disappointing to hear that our own MP has come out in favour of ‘dualling the A40’. (Note that in his maiden speech in 2001 Mr Cameron said “I will always support moves to examine reopening our railway to Oxford and extending the line to Carterton…”)

You don’t need to be a transport engineer to understand that even if you quadrupled the A40 you would only just get to the Wolvercote roundabout and then abruptly stopped there.  Any solution, no matter which, is only as good as its weakest link.  In the case of transport in and around Oxford the city itself is that weakest link.  Whether because of historical neglect or bad planning – there is no time to discuss this matter in such a short blog – you can’t easily drive through the city of Oxford, in fact not even around it. So what would be the point of attracting even more car traffic to it (as this is what dualling roads create, by the way)?

No, what we really need and deserve is something much more intelligent and cost-effective.  We don’t need a bigger road, we need an alternative.  We need to offer people the ability to commute knowing that their journey will take a set amount of time, every day and regardless of weather or anything else, except real force majeure.  We need to enable people to reach the main hospital on time for their appointment and without having to park there. We need to be able to connect with the rest of the country. We can achieve these many goals through fast and efficient public transport, but not of the kind that has to share the same space with cars as this would be pointless.

A few weeks ago we met up with representatives of the CPRE.  One of them, a retired architect, had spent some time planning a number of alternative tram/trains routes joining the Cotswold line from the north of Eynsham with a number of ‘hubs’, or convergence points, where commuters from neighbouring villages would drop their cars or get off local buses, or bikes, and jump on the tram/train to Oxford and beyond.  This is the kind of solution we need (but extended to Carterton of course).  A solution that encompasses multi modal transport, not just a single one.  For those who live in rural areas cars are still essential, but they should not be used to reach congested urban areas.

So the argument for dualling the A40 is a specious one.  We have no time here to discuss evidence, cost benefits and so on  though in the short span WOT has existed we have already amassed a vast amount amount of information.  All we need now is the support of the people of our District and to get a few heads around the table, with an independent study aimed at joining up the dots, as well as using new evidence to back up our argument.  This is what we at WOT are now fighting to achieve.  As we say in our publicity – doing nothing is not an option.

This blog was written and edited by Maurizio Fantato and it therefore expresses his own views and not necessarily the official ones of WOT