Plans to create a new rail freight hub north of Bicester have been branded “rubbish” by Oxfordshire’s leading councillor on climate change.
The blistering address from Councillor Dr Pete Sudbury (Green, Wallingford), the county’s cabinet member for climate change delivery & environment, supported the response from Oxfordshire County Council, raising concern over the proposals.
Put forward by Oxfordshire Railfreight Limited as part of a national infrastructure project, the interchange close to the site of the former Ardley railway station would feature up to 675,000 square metres of warehousing, including office accommodation south of the railway.
Heavy goods vehicle (HGV) access would be taken from the B430 and a new Ardley bypass leading to junction 10 of the M40, with the proposals including a relief road for Middleton Stoney.
A council report anticipates “significant changes” to junction 10 of the M40 to accommodate the 24-hour operation that would create around 9,500 jobs but also anticipated daily traffic movements topping 20,000 on top of “other significant warehousing and employment sites” proposed for the area.
The council’s response to the consultation says “insufficient evidence” has been provided for such a scale of need, warning that limited demand would wipe out environmental benefits.
It states that information on how other sites were considered “has yet to be provided”, leading to “incomplete evidence… to demonstrate that this is the most suitable location”.
It notes the plan “is likely to be highly dependent on car travel, thereby undermining the challenging Local Transport and Connectivity Plan (LTCP) headline targets for the reduction of car trips”.
Councillor Sudbury said the scheme was “almost self-parody”.
“Trying to transfer goods by rail is brilliant, but then you put it right in the middle of farmland. No, it is not okay to convert farmland into warehouses,” he said.
“This is a climate emergency, one of the things we need to look at is food security, and we do not concrete over farmland unless there is a very good reason.
“It is about as far away from any settlement as you could possibly get, and it would be a 24-hour operation. You save trucks driving up and down the M40. And then you promptly put thousands of car journeys on the roads every day.
“To parody itself even further, it is near a closed (railway) station in Ardley where there are no plans to reopen. That is actually taking the mick.”
He concluded: “I think this consultation is rubbish. I think it is a brilliant idea in exactly the wrong place.”
Councillor Duncan Enright (Lab, Witney North & East), the county’s cabinet member for travel & development strategy, said: “The LTCP commits us very firmly to supporting rail freight.
“We see the long-distance transport of goods, particularly bulk goods, by rail as a very sustainable option and something that would definitely be advantageous.
“However, we have concerns about specific things. Although this impacts primarily on the M40, it certainly has implications for the network.
“By making this balanced response, we acknowledge that we support the idea of rail freight but point out all of the key reasons why we might have concerns for the local network, not only for the onward transport of freight but the arrival and leaving of workers on various shifts.
“I would like to thank the officers for doing such a good job of gathering together all the things that might impact our county and for asking all the right questions, including whether this is the right spot.”
The council’s response will help to inform decisions made at the national government level under a Development Consent Order (DCO).