The route for the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway is expected to be announced imminently. With that in mind, I think it’s important to look again at the merits, or lack thereof, of the scheme being pushed on the region.
The South East is overheating with outdated transport infrastructure, and by forcing this road building project on the region, the Government is fanning the fire. And ignoring a host of opportunities for 21st Century infrastructure and mobility investment in Britain.
I believe the Expressway is a pursuit that makes a mockery of the Government’s commitment to “leaving the environment in a better state than they found it”. At the same time, it won’t deliver the homes we desperately need and any economic benefits to be had will be hoovered up by opportunistic developers. The Government’s business case for the project completely misrepresents and misunderstands the “demand” for housing in the area.
Take, for example, the discrepancy between the population growth projections of the independent statistics body, the Office of National Statistics (ONS), and the Government’s own projections. The ONS puts Oxfordshire’s population at 800,000 by 2050. The Government magics up a population estimate of 1,200,000 by 2050. It is important to remember that forcing population growth is not the same as providing for the actual needs of a growing population. It is also important to remember that road-building schemes like the Expressway don’t solve congestion problems, but encourage more cars onto our congested roads.
The latest evidence of the “induced traffic” effect was well-outlined in recent ‘The end of the road?’ report commissioned by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). I feel that to say the Government’s plan is flawed is an understatement. It is a plan settled upon with very little research, policy development or strategic regional planning.
Take, for instance, the fact that an assessment of the options for improving the existing road network has been almost completely ignored. “Where shall we put the road?” is not the first question policy-makers should be asking themselves or the public about transport infrastructure in 2018.
The Government should, instead, first be asking itself and residents “what investment will meet our needs and how do we ensure it is compatible with our climate commitments?” On my assessment, the Expressway ranges from an flawed and outdated investment to a destructive project that will fail on its own terms. It is an expensive distraction from what Oxfordshire desperately needs; proper investment in sustainable mobility projects.
The originally-promised electrified East-West rail route could have been a vital step forward towards the kind of clean, integrated sustainable mobility systems fit for the 21st Century. It’s an outrage the Government has now rowed back on its promises. East-West will become a vital regional rail route. But our cities and towns deserve better than an underfunded rail project that will be out-of-date as soon as it’s completed.
Decision makers removed from local scrutiny look increasingly likely, despite huge opposition, to back the imposition of an the road-building project on the people of Oxfordshire. If that turns out to be the case, I feel the decision will be an environmental catastrophe doomed to fail even on its own terms.
Whatever happens, I will continue to work with local people in the region threatened by the Government’s heavy-handed approach to 20th Century infrastructure projects. I am fighting the Expressway because I want to protect a vanishing greenbelt that will be permanently and irreparably damaged by the development. I am fighting to hold the Government to account on its international legal obligations to conduct a proper public consultation on the proposals and ensure the decision-making processes are comprehensive and transparent.
The Expressway and associated development will have far-reaching sustainability implications, economically, socially and environmentally. People have the right to voice their concerns.