Expressway – the issues

Link to NAWPEG page

Link to NHPC Expressway Working Group page

Not surprisingly a scheme of this magnitude relating to transport has attracted a lot of attention from a wide range of organisations including environmental and campaigning groups, plus many of the Parish and District Councils whose residents would be seriously affected. The following bullet points offer a simplified summary of some of the main concerns about the overall scheme.

Following the announcement of the detailed routes being put forward for consultation it will be possible to highlight the potential impacts on individual local sites.

Environmental and Social Issues.

  • Whichever route is finally chosen there are certain to be negative impacts on some of Oxfordshire’s most sensitive wildlife sites. This has already lead to court cases being brought forward by organisations such as BBOWT.
  • It will increase air and noise pollution significantly, potentially in locations that already breach official air quality limits and operate Air Quality Management Areas, such as alongside the A34 in Botley, and much of Oxford City.
  • It will fuel climate change. Many opponents to the Expressway scheme are supportive of proper funding to complete the East-West Rail link between Oxford and Cambridge, which is a much more environmentally friendly alternative.
  • The localised impact on communities directly along the route is potentially devastating, whether from the point of view of a small village suddenly being engulfed by a new major highway on their doorstep, or a larger conurbation located alongside a major road that would be upgraded (i.e. widened) to form part of the Expressway. An example of the latter would be Botley, where any widening of the A34 would result in a loss of housing together with negative impacts on two schools, retail and industrial sites, sports grounds, and potentially even Commonwealth War Graves. The exact social impacts will obviously directly relate to the detailed routes chosen for consultation.

The impact of the wider Growth Arc and the economics behind the Expressway.

  • The main driver of this project is to boost the economy of the region and overcome the current housing shortage. Over 1,000,000 houses are included in the plans for the Growth Arc, with the majority probably in two new towns (locations yet to be identified). This is massively above the levels set in Local Plans and Oxfordshire’s population could expect to grow to twice its current size by 2050. Add in the levels of additional industry and other infrastructure desired by the Government and the whole region would be transformed, but not necessarily in a way that current residents would want.
  •  The Expressway is not being planned as a strategic solution to improve the road network based on current users travelling between Oxford and Cambridge, it is being justified as necessary to cater for increased economic activity and the massive population growth resulting from increased housing and industry within the Growth Arc.
  • The level of freight traffic would also increase hugely, with the Expressway acting as the ‘missing east-west link’ in the road network for traffic travelling to and from the major freight handling ports.
  • Any hoped for benefits of reduced travel times along the route are likely to be negated by the increased levels of vehicles using the Expressway, leading to continued congestion and delays.
  • The 2018 Strategic Outline Business Case estimated costs of over £4 billion for the Expressway, and budgets have a tendency to increase over time rather than reduce. Is it a good use of public funds or could the money be better used on more targeted local housing and transport solutions? This report estimated a financial Benefit to Cost Ratio (BCR) of between 1.1 and 1.3, and final estimates on the chosen route may prove to be even more marginal, or potentially negative. When the possible routes are identified for public consultation this BCR is a key figure which will need reviewing carefully. Many people think that the financial justification for the Expressway and Growth Arc is a potential serious flaw in the scheme.