I am delighted to see the Minister in his place again as I bring the matter of West Oxfordshire’s roads before the House. I am delighted to have the opportunity to raise the issue of congestion on the A40, which is of enormous significance for those who travel on the road daily.
The A40 is one of the main trunk roads of this country and the main trunk road that travels through my constituency. Congestion is a particular concern between Witney and Oxford. There is a very good reason for my constituents’ concern over the congestion that they face, many on a daily basis. It is not just from the major market towns of Witney, Carterton and Eynsham, but from the surrounding villages. Between 23,000 and 32,000 vehicles currently use the section between Witney and Oxford each day, which is above the road’s capacity. During school term times, the average journey speed on the A40 between Cassington and Wolvercote in peak time is 17 mph, while on the worst days it can be as low as 10 mph.
The Oxfordshire strategic traffic model forecasts an increase in highway demand on the A40 between Witney and Oxford of between 70 and 140 movements per peak hour by 2031. Without improvements, that will lead to an even greater overcapacity on the road and increase the severity of the congestion that my constituents already suffer from. Peak journey times between Witney and Oxford could increase by about 15 minutes.
I have spoken of the major towns, but equally people living in towns and villages further afield, who may not even use the A40, are suffering the ill effects of the congestion on that road. For example, in Bladon, which is the village in which I live, we suffer from excessive traffic, particularly HGVs, which rat-run through our village on the A4095 to escape the congestion on the A40. Businesses across West Oxfordshire are shackled by the logjams on the A40 and I have lost count of the number of businesses that have said to me over the past two years that they could expand were it not for the barrier that the A40 presents because of the congestion on it.
The A40 is costing jobs and revenue. Because of the difficulties for people travelling in and out of West Oxfordshire, it is making recruitment for our NHS and our schools very difficult. The plain truth is that West Oxfordshire will never and can never reach its full potential until the congestion on the A40 is addressed.
Back in 2002, my predecessor remarked in this House that
“In west Oxfordshire, we have some of the best and brightest businesses in the country, but the gridlock on our main road is like a hand pressed against their windpipes. Business in west Oxfordshire must be allowed to breathe.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 386, c.308WH.]
He was right and his words remain true today. I do not rise in this debate to complain. I rise to be a voice of optimism and not to speak of the past, but to champion the opportunities and to explain to the Minister—I am very grateful to him for listening—what it is we need for our area. There is, in truth, more optimism now than there has been for decades. Progress is being made. If we are ambitious and bold in the years ahead, we might just be able to get to grips with this issue.