WOT now has a second film

WOT now has a second film in its library on the need for a railway from Oxford to Witney and beyond. This one is entitled Taming the Car: Organising for Integrated Transport in West Oxfordshire. This, too, was made by 3rd Strike Films.

The film argues that integration of transport modes – and of access to them – is essential. Turning the A40 into a dual carriageway, the current strategy of Oxfordshire County Council, is not.

 

Transport in times of elections

These are peculiar times and this is a very peculiar election as we all know, dominated principally by Brexit (and that’s the only mention of it in this post!) rather than the more run of the mill items we have grown accustomed to in normal times.  Transport therefore is relegated at the bottom of the political agenda, despite the fact that some of the local candidates have made some attempt in their propaganda at least to mention some of their so called achievements or aspirations.

Nevertheless we decided to ask each of our local candidates a set of question which we are now publishing here

Nitrogen dioxide levels in central Witney remain dangerously high and illegal. Do you agree this is an urgent problem and how would you seek to tackle it?

In 1960 you could catch a train from the centre of Witney at 7:28am and be in the centre of Oxford at 7:56.  The same journey by car or bus can now take up to two hours. Do you see this as progress?
 
Why spend £10s of millions of taxpayers money on increasing capacity for motor vehicles using the A40 carriageway when we are in the midst of a climate crisis?
Do you think appropriate measures should be taken to ensure that housing developments in the District are planned to incorporate future rail/cycle transit links?
Do you think that existing housing developers’ contributions are adequate in order to ensure the provision of well funded public services in those areas?
We shall publish their responses if we get any in due course!

Most important election issues
What people feel are the most important general elections issues

Nul points for vision

Comments from our supporter Ian Meharg on the announcement by the District Council to bid exclusively for major road improvements:

traffic jam
More jams tomorrow…

The proposal to dual some of the A40 and add a bus lane, has zero imagination or vision. This thinking is completely locked into failed 20th Century approaches and dominated by the vested interests subsidised with OUR money.

Dualling the A40 from the current end of the Witney bypass to the Eynsham roundabout with the B4449, only moves the problem 3 miles east and compresses it further into the bottleneck that OCC has designed in at the Cassington junction. The recent changes to Wolvercote and Cutteslowe roundabouts (which took 18 months to build) have had zero impact on journey times into and around Oxford – in fact, have made them worse due to unnecessary waiting at traffic lights when the roads are empty. And the problems at Cassington/Eynsham remain as they have for the last 15+ years.

Furthermore, these proposals do nothing to address the demand for road / vehicle-based journeys. You can only achieve so much simply by tinkering with available capacity. A truly integrated approach that is fit for the 21st Century and the digital age is urgently required. I have summarised such an approach which is available.

Constantly tinkering with marginal approaches will fix nothing. In fact, it will make things worse, MUCH worse. It always has and it always will.

Until and unless there is a quantum shift in thinking – in the politics, in the funding, the blinkered vision and lack of ambition in those that spend our money – we will still be having this discussion in 20 years’ time. So, either we sit back and accept it and hope that maybe, just maybe, there might be marginal improvement, or we devise a properly integrated (not merely co-located) approach to ALL forms of transport, utilising technology that may seem to some to be cutting edge now, but which will be commonplace in 2-3 years’ time (but still forward-looking), as well as tackling the ever rising demand for physical journeys. Basing a policy on what has gone 20 years ago, and expecting it to function 20 years ahead, is a monumental waste of money and a huge missed opportunity to provide Oxfordshire and the rest of the UK with an infrastructure that is even close to the quality of our European neighbours – who will soon be our competitors.

More responses to the A40 statement!

Here is the full text of the responses received – strictly in order of receipt

Green Party Candidate Claire Lasko:

“Unpredictable congestion on the A40 is strangling social and economic life in West Oxfordshire The problem will only worsen when many more houses are built here.

Dualling the A40 is not a solution. Traffic reached saturation point years ago and more road capacity instantly attracts more traffic.

A public transport solution is required, preferably a train from Carterton through Witney to Oxford. It is extraordinary that a conurbation of the size that Witney-Carterton will reach in a very few years does not have a rail link to the outside world. Until it does, the area will continue in isolation and relative decline.

It is imperative that WOT continue its invaluable work if these aims are to be met.
Best wishes”

(Green Party / on behalf of Claire Lasko 18/05/17 14:52 (email))


Robert Courts, Conservative candidate:

Thank you for your email about the A40.  I am grateful to you for raising this matter and for all the work that you do to draw attention to problems on the road.
Let me assure you that I share your frustration about the congestion on the A40, and, if I may say, also share your determination to solve this matter once and for all.
Indeed, I have brought the Transport Secretary down to Witney to see the congestion on the A40 for himself, and have also raised this issue in the House of Commons.  Should I be re-elected I will continue to lobby central government to provide the funding and expertise necessary to end the congestion on the road.
You might to be interested to know that I am currently petitioning Parliament for this very purpose. I hoping to amass as many signatories as possible to ensure the Government takes notice of the widespread discontent over the A40, and, crucially, the need to address this issue as soon as possible.  Should I be re-elected, one of the first things I will do is present the petition to Parliament.  I hope that this will bring the Government to the negotiating table so we can press for the funding and expertise necessary to provide a sustainable, long-term fix to the road.
I would invite you to sign the petition, (www.robertcourts.co.uk/a40), and would be grateful if you could encourage others to do so too.
Many thanks again and I hope we can work together on this issue in the future.
Yours sincerely,
Robert

(received by email at 16:01 Monday 22 May 2017)


PS) the Witney Gazette wrote to all the candidates and published their views here


Response from Laetisia Carter, Labour Candidate
Comment: We all know our infrastructure needs prioritising and adequate investment, and that includes transport in West Oxfordshire.

Not only will investment create local jobs during construction; it will also shape our economic future and needs careful handling!

The A40 is a vital link between jobs, hospitals and homes. It needs investment and since Labour councillors were elected to bang on about it on behalf of their neighbours we have seen some improvements. The bus lanes are very welcome but not enough.

For a sustainable future we need to build more jobs in our towns and villages. Fast broadband will help, as will a fairer economy with lending for local businesses. Let’s face it, after seven years of Tory and Lib Dem rule, any sort of regional policy and government action would be welcome! Our regional investment banks will help.

But we also need major improvements in public transport. Labour councillors have supported this, particularly buses, and would like to see light rail or similar in the district. We support a strong local plan and have criticised the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats for their ill-judged reforms to the planning system.

We are very keen on the sort of rural regeneration programme you suggest. And we are also keen to support Carterton and the base to work together to develop a science centre for the District. As Labour MP I would work with my councillor colleagues to bring jobs and homes together, with the right infrastructure.

In Chipping Norton we have very similar challenges and we need mobile connectivity (the signal is really poor!) as well as high quality jobs and better roads (with lorries out of the centre) to make our town strong again.

Time: 30/05/2017 at 22:52


Response from Liz Leffman, LibDem Candidate  (responses to our questions in Italics)

1.    Would you support the creation of an alternative transport mode, either as a light rail or similar, to serve the area in question, joining it up with the rest of the network? Yes

2.    Would you be willing to look again at the development plans for the area, lobbying for the creation of a well planned and state of art housing approach, rather than a piecemeal one as we have now?  I do not believe that under present legislation this will be possible.  Rather, I would support a review of the NPPF as a whole.  I would also support a move to require councils to plan housing and infrastructure together, instead of the piecemeal approach that we have at present.

3.    Would you be willing to consider rural regeneration plans that would create affordable and sustainable carbon neutral communities instead of conventional housing through a partnership of the private and public sectors? Yes

4.    How would you support the growth of areas like Carterton and Brize Norton as high tech centres for the District? Clearly the first step towards this is to have a transport plan for the A40, without which we will not be in a position to attract businesses to the area.

Received 1/6/2017 17:30

A40 Election Statement Request

Today we have written to all man parties candidates.  Here is the copy of the message.  As soon as we receive a reply we’ll post it on this site – keep an eye!

 

Dear  (candidate name)

We are the Witney Oxford Transport (WOT) campaign, a cross party group set up in 2013 to address the issue of traffic alongside the A40 corridor, from Carterton and neighbouring areas into Oxford.

It will come as no surprise to you that traffic congestion on the A40 has increased over the last ten years making journeys between our district and Oxford unpredictable.  In addition, several thousand houses are planned in the area.  With Oxford acting as the main economic focus for the county and the cost of housing in that city being unaffordable to most people, it is natural to expect a substantial increase in traffic on the only main artery we have, the A40, which is already at breaking point.

We are fully aware of recent plans proposed by the County Council and the LEP to ameliorate the situation but we are of the opinion that although welcome they are insufficient to address the problem and a new more radical, sustainable and long-term vision is required instead.

We are now gathering information from all candidates in order to address these questions which are of interest to our members:

  1. Would you support the creation of an alternative transport mode, either as a light rail or similar, to serve the area in question, joining it up with the rest of the network?
  2. Would you be willing to look again at the development plans for the area, lobbying for the creation of a well planned and state of art housing approach, rather than a piecemeal one as we have now?
  3. Would you be willing to consider rural regeneration plans that would create affordable and sustainable carbon neutral communities instead of conventional housing through a partnership of the private and public sectors?
  4. How would you support the growth of areas like Carterton and Brize Norton as high-tech centres for the District?

I look forward to hearing from you and will be glad to share your views with other Witney voters through WOT (Witney Oxford Transport), the pressure group that campaigns for reliable transport from Oxford to the west of the county.

Yours sincerely

Maurizio

Maurizio Fantato FRSA FRGS

Chairman

WOT Campaign

WOT was that about?

Summing up the WOT “Unblocking the A40” Seminar, 10 November, Oxford

If you have been following our campaign you couldn’t have missed the seminar we organised a couple of weeks ago in Oxford.  Before, during and after the event we received a number of questions and we thought it would be useful to address some of these issues in a Q&A format (the questions have been re-edited as several were similar):

Why did you organise this event in Oxford and not in Witney?

Two fundamental reasons.  The first is that traffic alongside the A40 is both ways and it affects people in Oxford too.  The second is eminently practical.  We had speakers and guests travelling by train and there was simply no way they could have come to a public venue on time in Witney.  Those who commute from Oxford to Witney daily will know what we are talking about.  There was nothing more complex or sinister in the decision and the majority of our regular meetings are held in the Carterton/Witney/Eynsham areas.

How did you select the speakers?

We wanted to bring in a range of expertise and visions.  Ray provided the urban planner expertise, as well as his own joined up vision of a regional approach that might even go beyond our local stretch of the A40.  Roger came from one of our funders, Railfuture, to offer us his own perception of how these things work in terms of looking at strategic partnerships, as well as looking at opportunities in view of recent legislative changes.  Finally we couldn’t have wished for a better overall public transport expert with Stephen from CBT (Campaign for Better Transport) and his huge knowledge of these matters not only at local but also international level.

What did you want to achieve?

In a year which has seen fundamental shifts in this country’s political and economic landscape you could forgive our key stakeholders for taking their eyes off the ball, with the risk that more time would be wasted before anything was done to alleviate the situation.  A public meeting was our way of telling them that we are very much in the business of ensuring this problem should continue to be a top priority.  Furthermore, we also wanted to demonstrate that what we had brought to the table on previous occasions and in several semi-private meetings at council and district level was also backed by the public and by even more experts.   Lastly, we simply need the support of as many people and local organisations as possible to achieve our objectives.  It would have been unrealistic to have set more specific goals, like expecting to have total agreement for a specific solution.  The debate itself demonstrated the variety of interests and approaches.

Are the presentations available?

Yes, just go on the Past Events page and you will be able to download a PDF of each of the two presentations (there were no Powerpoint slides from Roger).

What are you planning to do next?

We are planning to organise a summit of all local parish councils in the new year during which we will discuss more specific details of our approach as well as exchanging information on some highly technical issues related to the proposed short term improvements to the A40

Do you favour a specific solution?

Many of us see a public transport option (rail or similar) as the best possible alternative.  We are not naturally opposed to the dualling of the A40, but we simply do not think that this alone could possibly provide a solution.  The travel pattern in our District is just too complex and, just as a mere example, even 15 years ago the County council wanted to dual the A40 *and* create a parallel public transport link all the way from Witney to Oxford.  If there was such need back then we could easily argue this is even more urgent now.  

Right now our main concern is that any land where the old rail link was sited is safeguarded.  Once the land is built up it would be much more difficult to reclaim it.   So it must be protected together with its essential infrastructure such as bridges and so on.

Why public transport?

There are two good reasons.  The first is strategic. You can’t just rely on a simple transport mode.  You couldn’t have just a few roads going from Bristol to London and no other form of transport. It would have engendered chaos and stifled economic growth.  So we need an alternative.  Public transport of the right kind, where vehicles follow their own independent tracks, is reliable by definition as a customer can plan a journey and reach their destinations within set times.  Everyone who uses trains, metros or the London river boats know this. You know the time your service will pass by your stop and when you will reach your destination.

Do you have any documentation?

We have amassed a very large library of documents, from the original Mott Macdonald report to more recent ones and more. Just drop us a line for information.

Are your regular meeting public?

Yes. We meet at least monthly and mainly at Freeland Parish Hall.  We publish the meeting dates on Facebook and on our website.  Everyone is welcome to attend.

How can we get in touch?

Easy.  Just drop us a line or follow us on our social media channels.

A tale of two roundabouts

Almost simultaneously to the start of the Wolvercote Roundabout improvement works Swindon Borough Council started working on one of the town’s major roundabouts, the Greenbridge one.   To all intent and purpose it’s a very similar layout to the Wolvercote one, see picture, and the cost is more or less the same (£4m ca for Greenbridge and £9m for two roundabouts in Oxford).  

Greenbridge roundabout
Greenbridge roundabout plans

But there is a huge difference. If you travel into Swindon at rush hour you’d barely be affected by the works.  Lanes have been left open in all directions and repairs proceed at lightening speed.  As early as 7 am there will be workmen beavering away and progress is noticeable from one day to the next.

Try travelling at rush hour using Wolvercote roundabout… and as for work progress many people have taken the trouble to write to the Council and to the local papers describing the speed of work as an embarrassment.

Before you ask, both authorities are Tory led , so there is no difference in their political make up either.   When it comes to transport infrastructure we must be down at the bottom of the pile.  People often complain to us of how poorly maintained roads are once they get into Oxfordshire, as for buses and other public transport we all know well the kind of predicament we are in. 

Draw your own conclusions…

Another fudge

Fudge for car users
 
OCC’s plan is a hybrid. It proposes three miles of useful bus lane from Wolvercote to Eynsham and three miles of destructive dual carriageway between Eynsham and Shores Green. The bus lane is £12 million; the dual carriageway is £42 million.
 
OCC tell me that dualling a road costs about twice as much per mile as adding a bus lane on each side. The huge difference is because dual carriageways are built to much more elaborate and exacting standards.
A fudge but an indigestible one…
 
Therefore OCC’s proposal is about £21 million more than building bus lanes in both directions all the way between Shores Green and Duke’s Cut.
Almost all road expansion for at least the last five or six decades has increased traffic, and a Shores Green – Eynsham dual carriageway would do exactly the same. OCC refuses to believe it. It refuses to see that more road space will attract more car use.
 
OCC’s proposal does not satisfy the motor lobby. That lobby is still calling for the whole route to be dualled. Dualling between Shores Green and Eynsham will encourage demand to dual between Eynsham and Wolvercote, which in turn would require a “tin hat” bypass through the Kidlington Gap.
 
OCC’s only environmental consideration seems to be sensitive habitats in the area of Oxford Meadows. That was why it rejects dualling east of Eynsham but wants to dual west of Eynsham.
 
CO2 reduction and overall modal shift seemed to rate low on their priorities. I have seen no evidence from OCC that its A40 scheme is radical enough to fulfil either the Climate Change Act 2008 or the UK’s COP21 commitments. Instead OCC seems to be trying to placate car-dependent West Oxfordshire voters – and Witney MP David Cameron  by giving them a big new road.
 
Poor value for bus users
 
OCC’s bus lane proposal is hamstrung by its assumption that widening the bridges over the railway and canal would be too expensive. It therefore leaves the first half mile west of Wolvercote roundabout unimproved, with no bus lanes. That means half a mile of, potentially, daily car queues in which buses would still get stuck.
 
OCC says it would try to mitigate this with bus gates. I asked her where these would be and how they would help. She said they had not decided, and could give no more details.
 

2 April 2010: Derriford Walkabout
2 April 2010: Derriford Walkabout

I am no civil engineer. But does OCC pretend that widening the bridges to extend the bus lanes another half mile would cost more than £21 million?

 
Is the proposed hybrid scheme cheaper than bus lanes all the way between Shores Green and Wolvercote roundabout, including widening the bridges? I doubt it.
 
Of course Bus Users Oxford welcomes three miles of new bus lane on the A40. Eastbound from Eynsham to Duke’s Cut had already been decided upon; what this scheme would add is a westbound bus lane from Duke’s Cut to Eynsham. But the scheme is seriously compromised by both the missing half mile between Wolvercote and Duke’s Cut and the three miles of dual carriageway between Eynsham and Shores Green.
 
OCC’s current proposal for the A40 is not the most environmental option. It is not even the most affordable option. And it is certainly not radical enough to be called a solution.
Hugh Jaeger
Director Bus Users UK

More than 20,000 extra cars?

 

Will our roads cope with the estimated traffic that additional housing developments planned for parts of our District could bring?

WOT officials have mapped potential housing developments alongside the A40 corridor.  We are aware that while some of these are certain to go ahead, others are still very much in planning and may therefore not even be developed, but the situation is certainly very worrying.

Even assuming that ‘only’ half of the developments in the map below went ahead this represents approximately 8000 new dwellings, or, 12,000 extra cars on our roads. How can we expect the existing infrastructure to cope with such surge in demand?  

A great deal of these new developments are sited close to the A40 (take Carterton, or West Witney for example) and are therefore fully reliant on that road.

We have little doubt in our minds that we need a long-term, reliable public transport solution.  If we just waited for the houses to be built it would way too late and would also end up costing us a lot more.  Why can’t we start planning long-term now?

A40 housing developments planned
Possible housing developments

Roads at breaking point – don’t panic!

So Ian Hudspeth the Chairman of the County Council is now saying that “We are at breaking point” and that “we should use public transport more”.  This is quite  something coming from a Council that has in the past consistently ignored public transport.

For years, and despite comparatively modest subsidies, the Council has silently been chipping away at public transport routes, particularly rural bus links, as well as neglecting long term strategies on the grounds of costs.  Now we are simply reaping the rewards of this strategy.  Our roads can’t cope any longer, the A40 in particular.  Yet hundreds of houses – apparently – will need to be built outside Oxford, thus adding to existing traffic and to the misery of daily commuting in and out of the city, without any additional infrastructure, except perhaps the odd junction improvement.

Suddenly the Leader of the Council has realised that you could reduce congestion by using public transport and has urged us to use what little of it we have got left.  Pity though that buses have to share the same congested space as cars and that there are as yet no real alternatives, like light railways or tramways, to relieve overcrowding and provide reliable transport links.  As for suggesting to use Long Hanborough station the newly extended car park is virtually full, its platform couldn’t cope with additional passengers at peak times, neighbouring roads would require urgent improvements  and, without substantial rail investment, no further trains could be run on that line.  So much for a viable alternative.

So what to do?  Well, for a start we should stop burying our heads in the sand, recognising that at least for the sake of good transport planning anything within a 15 miles radius of Oxford (give or take a few miles) should be classified as being part of a unified metropolitan area.  This approach would require a dramatic paradigm shift, but could focus planners and politicians into creating a truly integrated transport network.

In some parts of this ‘greater Oxford area’ a variety of actions may be required, from road improvements (perhaps more Park and Ride facilities), to newly built dedicated public transport links.  This can be done.  It just needs the humility to admit that we can’t continue as now and that we desperately need a long term strategic approach, backed by substantial investment of course.  And on this final point it seems that we can always find money to fund new ways of killing each other, or find very large sums to deliver massive infrastructural projects like HS2 when we really want to. Why can’t we find adequate resources for decent public transport, when we can demonstrate that  these investments could even encourage a more thriving local economy? Beside, as polls have consistently shown, if you provide full clarity, apportion taxation fairly and allocate these funds to specific schemes people are willing to pay more for this kind of long term solutions.  It just needs guts and long term vision.

Maurizio Fantato

(my own opinions not necessarily those of WOT)