Unanswered questions

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Robert Courts must have received an avalanche of letters from constituents impressed with the huge benefits the revamped Bicester to Oxford rail link has generated. Nonetheless, he now declares that “Rail may not be the answer to A40 chaos” (Witney Gazette, 14 February).

Some of his assertions are based on inaccurate premises. Reopening of the old railway line from Oxford to Witney is a non-starter. It was built to transport agricultural produce, not commuters, so the old track reflected the economic needs of 150 years ago. A new route is needed instead, one that joins Cowley to Oxford and Witney and beyond, linking with the proposed park and ride along the way and providing transport interchanges for those who use cars, buses and bikes. We envisage an integrated transport system to serve the whole district, not simply tinkering with the A40.

Much was made of ‘evidence’. For a clear example of the very rapid economic benefits that the reopening of a railway line brings one can look at Scotland, at the Border extension in particular. A year 1 report estimated that there were 40,000 fewer car journeys with improved access to job markets, greater tourist influx and overall beneficial effects to the local economy and to the environment. As for commuter satisfaction you don’t have to go as far as Scotland, just look at the revamped Oxford to Bicester line.

When representatives of Witney Oxford Transport Group met Mr Courts last August, we supplied him with detailed plans of our proposal, supported by an imaginative private/public funding scheme. We presented him with an integrated vision of a regional transport system that was not circumscribed by problems faced by cars on the A40. Mr Courts promised a considered response. Six months later we are still waiting for his response. Now it seems that he never did have the interest and imagination to see any further than the traffic jam on the A40.

Dismissing a rail link will continue to cripple the local economy of West Oxfordshire, turning large parts of our district into unattractive dormitory towns where the only possible transport mode is the car, and generating more traffic, more pollution and increased misery. Try harder, Mr Courts.

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A40 Election Statement Request

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Today we have written to all man parties candidates.  Here is the copy of the message.  As soon as we receive a reply we’ll post it on this site – keep an eye!

 

Dear  (candidate name)

We are the Witney Oxford Transport (WOT) campaign, a cross party group set up in 2013 to address the issue of traffic alongside the A40 corridor, from Carterton and neighbouring areas into Oxford.

It will come as no surprise to you that traffic congestion on the A40 has increased over the last ten years making journeys between our district and Oxford unpredictable.  In addition, several thousand houses are planned in the area.  With Oxford acting as the main economic focus for the county and the cost of housing in that city being unaffordable to most people, it is natural to expect a substantial increase in traffic on the only main artery we have, the A40, which is already at breaking point.

We are fully aware of recent plans proposed by the County Council and the LEP to ameliorate the situation but we are of the opinion that although welcome they are insufficient to address the problem and a new more radical, sustainable and long-term vision is required instead.

We are now gathering information from all candidates in order to address these questions which are of interest to our members:

  1. Would you support the creation of an alternative transport mode, either as a light rail or similar, to serve the area in question, joining it up with the rest of the network?
  2. Would you be willing to look again at the development plans for the area, lobbying for the creation of a well planned and state of art housing approach, rather than a piecemeal one as we have now?
  3. Would you be willing to consider rural regeneration plans that would create affordable and sustainable carbon neutral communities instead of conventional housing through a partnership of the private and public sectors?
  4. How would you support the growth of areas like Carterton and Brize Norton as high-tech centres for the District?

I look forward to hearing from you and will be glad to share your views with other Witney voters through WOT (Witney Oxford Transport), the pressure group that campaigns for reliable transport from Oxford to the west of the county.

Yours sincerely

Maurizio

Maurizio Fantato FRSA FRGS

Chairman

WOT Campaign

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.

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.