A40 in West Oxfordshire: Congestion

Part of Petition - Maximum Sentences for Child Cruelty Offences – in the House of Commons at 9:09 pm on 8th January 2019.

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Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Minister of State (Department for Transport) 9:09 pm, 8th January 2019

I congratulate my hon. Friend Robert Courts on securing the debate and welcome the opportunity to speak about the A40 west of Oxford, although, unfortunately, such has been the Periclean—indeed Demosthenic—quality of his oratory that he has left me nine minutes of a 30-minute debate in which to respond. He and other colleagues raised many issues that it would be nice to touch on, so in a way it is a pity that there is not more time for the Government to give the account he seeks.

I understand the great importance of this road in the area and to the local people who regularly use it. It will be no secret to hon. Members that the A40 can experience congestion—at times severe congestion. It should be said that the chief glory of the road is that it leads to Herefordshire. I was astounded that my hon. Friend Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown neglected to make that point when sketching the gap between Gloucestershire and Wales, thereby ignoring much—almost all—of what is of value in this.

There are considerable growth ambitions for the west of Oxford along this corridor and the debate is therefore timely. The county has a fast-growing and successful economy that contributes some £21 billion per year to national output. It competes well on a global stage as a centre of science and innovation, but infrastructure constraints there, as elsewhere across the country, are a barrier to housing development and job creation. That was why in November 2017 the Government announced that Oxfordshire would receive up to £215 million of new funding to support its ambition to plan for, and to support the delivery of, 100,000 homes by 2031. That is alongside a commitment to adopt an Oxfordshire-wide statutory joint plan by that year. This ambitious and comprehensive investment programme is designed to deliver sustainable development and growth, with a focus on the amenity, quality and liveability of the area and on affordable housing.

On 12 September 2018, the first of the planning flexibilities agreed as part of the deal was enacted by written ministerial statement. This has amended land supply policies for Oxfordshire, and the Government look forward to the county developing its joint statutory spatial plan, making use of these new flexibilities.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Witney acknowledged, the majority of local transport improvement schemes are funded through the local growth fund—it is not entirely a Department for Transport scheme. We are providing some £6.7 billion to that fund over the six years from 2015-16 to 2020-21. Funding also comes through local enterprise partnerships, with some 600 transport schemes being funded across England.

There is also considerable planned investment on the A40 through the local growth fund. The Oxford science transit scheme has been allocated £35 million of the fund to support the expansion of the integrated public transport system west of Oxford, including the provision of bus priority and of a 1,000-space park and ride at Eynsham, to which my hon. Friend referred. We hope that this will deliver major enhancements to the strategic route, connecting centres of innovation and economic growth. I understand that the county council aims to have the park and ride and bus lane open for use by April 2021. Improvements to public transport should provide a viable alternative to private car use and, as my hon. Friend rightly said, a substantial modal shift would help to address congestion and would also be of enormous public value in others ways. This scheme and other current and planned projects will provide congestion relief in the short to medium term along the A40. Of course, there is also a £5.9 million local growth fund commitment to the Oxford North project, a package of measures to improve transport in the north of the city and to provide a new research space and new homes.

There are also wider aspirations to tackle congestion in the longer term. As my hon. Friend pointed out, a consultation has recently closed on plans for the first phase of these improvements, and my officials continue to work closely with Oxfordshire County Council to take the project forward.

The North Cotswold line is not strictly within the terms of this debate, but it has been raised and I am pleased to discuss it quickly. As with the road, its chief glory is that it leads to Herefordshire, so I have a certain stake in this issue, and of course colleagues representing constituencies along the line would like to see faster and more frequent services. Any proposals must be supported by a robust business case in accordance with the rail network enhancements pipeline. The Department will continue to provide advice to Lord Faulkner’s taskforce, which has been established to develop a vision for the route between Worcester and Oxford—and, ultimately, of course to Herefordshire—and to develop proposals.

On the housing side, the autumn Budget provided an extra £500 million for the housing infrastructure fund, bringing the total funding available to £5.5 billion. In March 2018, the Government announced the areas that are being taken forward through co-development, where the Government work with local authorities to further develop their proposals. Oxfordshire is one of the designated areas for co-development. The Department works closely with other Departments and local partners to take forward these proposals. Final funding awards for the proposals will be determined by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government following the assessment of detailed business plans. I understand that Oxfordshire County Council intends to submit its own proposals early this year.

My hon. Friend has raised the issue of maintenance and potholes on many occasions, and indeed he secured a debate on the subject in July last year. As he will know, the Government have since allocated a further £420 million of new money for local highways maintenance —not necessarily entirely as a result of that debate. That means an additional £7.4 million of funding for local roads in Oxfordshire, which adds to existing committed funding sources totalling some £28.2 million for the county.

My hon. Friend rightly mentioned the major road network. Oxford does have a section of the A40 that is eligible for the local roads network, in that it fits the criteria that we have set for that. It is now for local partners to gather evidence that demonstrates which improvements are priorities for their respective areas, and to bid for support. This is a major new Government initiative to create a package of support for schemes that are eligible along the future major road network. It therefore provides an opportunity across the country, not just in Oxfordshire. The Oxford to Cambridge expressway has also been raised, and my hon. Friend will know that considerable investment is being made in that area to improve transport connectivity and growth not just across Oxfordshire and the region, but for the benefit of the UK as a whole.

I think that my hon. Friend will recognise from this quick canter through the various pots of money and opportunities available that his county has done well and that if the bids can pass muster in this very competitive process, they will stand every chance of an attractive outcome. He knows that a series of bids have been placed, or are due to be placed, in front of the Government for those different pots, and I urge him, his county council and local partners to continue to build robust and compelling cases that can demonstrate to the Government that investment in key infrastructure is well worth while and will deliver the key targets that they have specified, along with benefits for current users and future growth and success.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.