A40 in West Oxfordshire: Congestion

Part of Petition - Maximum Sentences for Child Cruelty Offences – in the House of Commons at 8:48 pm on 8th January 2019.

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Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney 8:48 pm, 8th January 2019

Absolutely—I could not agree more. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. There are two ways of addressing road congestion: increasing the flow of the road—the furred artery, as my hon. Friend Alex Chalk referred to it—and taking cars off the road wherever possible. My hon. Friend Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown refers to redoubling the Cotswold line so we can have faster, more reliable and more frequent trains and take as many people off the A40 as possible. I feel particularly strongly about that—it is one of my pet projects—and I will refer to it again a little later.

The second aspect I would like to talk about is the Government’s housing infrastructure fund. One of the biggest causes for optimism at the moment is Oxfordshire County Council’s plan for road upgrades and the strong case it is making for a part of that £5 billion fund. I am delighted that it is making the most of that opportunity with a very strong bid for A40 upgrades, which it will submit later this year and no doubt will be highly competitive. I look forward to continuing to work with Oxfordshire County Council and neighbouring councils, and with the Government, to progress that bid.

The bid will seek to achieve upgrades for four strategic and interdependent road sections, including general roadway widening along critical sections of the A40 to complete the dualling from Witney to Eynsham, new bus lanes, additional cycle path links and—this is another thing I have campaigned for since being elected—a walking path to promote active travel between Eynsham and Oxford. The B4044 community path in particular is something I have campaigned for consistently since being elected. I want to take this opportunity to praise the hard work of campaigners and put on the record my full support for enabling people to cycle as much as possible—to get out of cars and to cycle from Eynsham into the centre of Oxford, as I was lucky enough to be able to do along the excellent A44 path from Bladon to Oxford when I worked in the centre of Oxford, and I am delighted that the B4044 community path is included in Oxfordshire County Council’s plan.

The bid is connected to delivery of the Oxfordshire-Cotswolds garden village, which will see 2,200 new homes built on the A40 corridor. This, along with further developments west of Eynsham and Witney, will put increased demand on the A40, and so the road’s capacity must be enhanced if we are to cope. I look to the Minister for his help in achieving this funding. I have always been clear that transport upgrades—improvements to bus, road and rail—need to happen before, not after, new homes are occupied to ensure that new development does not place an unacceptable burden on existing residents.

These schemes will also assist our area in delivering improved housing choice, affordability for residents and reasonable commuting time to their place of employment. They will attract high-value knowledge businesses to go alongside the leading businesses in West Oxfordshire I have already referred to, further enhancing the dynamism of our area. West Oxfordshire is an economically successful region, but this comes at a price, and that price is increased pressure on our existing infrastructure, less reliable connections and less resilience. The deficiencies in our current transport network must be addressed before we start to think about additional growth.

I fully support Oxford County Council’s efforts. I have no doubt it will submit a compelling bid that I sincerely and passionately hope will be successful, and I urge the Government to accept and support the bid. I am sure the Minister will offer his advice and advocacy to that very end.

In my last two or three points, I will refer to the major road network scheme, which, looking further into the future, I believe offers more promise of further A40 funding. I have campaigned for such a programme to ensure central Government funding for local major roads that fall outside the strategic road network, and I welcome the broad outline of the scheme. Considering the existing strategic road network together with major local authority roads is a welcome step, and providing a dedicated funding stream for the major road network will enable growth and development to be more effectively planned.

I well remember discussing this matter with the Transport Secretary—I am grateful to him for visiting—as we stood near Eynsham. He saw the congestion on the A40 for himself, and this scheme grew out of that visit. I explained how the A40 had been de-trunked in 2002 by the Labour Government and how that resulted in the road falling between the cracks, not receiving the significant central Government investment required to tackle the severe congestion on the road. The major road network proposals offer the potential of local authority-controlled roads being able to access central Government funding while not losing the important local democratic control provided by locally elected councillors.

I have submitted a consultation response on the MRN and was pleased to read the Government’s response published just before Christmas. I am greatly encouraged by it, and the MRN shows great promise, but we now need to see the rhetoric transformed into decisive action, such that we begin to tackle the congestion issues on roads such as the A40.

I ought briefly to mention the Oxford to Cambridge expressway project. I appreciate that it will be some time yet before construction starts, but it demonstrates how much the Government value Oxfordshire and its growth. It is a key area for business growth, and housing growth is expected as well, but if we are to accept, as the Government have done, that Oxfordshire is a key growth area for the UK, of paramount strategic and economic significance, there is no excuse for neglecting our infrastructure needs. It is all well and good building a new expressway but, if we are to deliver the economic growth envisaged, we must address our current infrastructure deficiencies, such as on the A40, which affects Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, with urgency.

Either the Oxford-Cambridgeshire corridor is a national priority for economic growth, or it is not, and if it is, this must be reflected in the Government’s investment decisions, and those must help and benefit communities throughout the whole of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire and beyond.