Suspending work on a new park and ride at Eynsham would be “prudent” amid a cost-cutting review of the A40’s £106 million revamp.
That was the view of the active travel champion at Oxfordshire County Council, Councillor Dan Levy, the Liberal Democrat member who also represents Eynsham.
It comes as the county’s cabinet – the group of ruling Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green councillors – decided to review the project as inflation eats into what can be done with the £106 million funding from Homes England.
The highways project between Witney and the north of Oxford is meant to support the building of more than 20,000 new homes in the area.
It includes dual carriageways between Witney and Eynsham, improved shared cycle paths and footpaths, extra bus lanes to support a new transport hub at Eynsham Park & Ride, and a widening of the Cassington Bridge.
The project was rolled out in 2019 when the Conservatives ran the council, but the new administration is not a huge fan.
In April 2022, leader Councillor Liz Leffman (Lib Dem, Charlbury & Wychwood) said: “Unfortunately, we are not in the luxurious position of being able to stop this, review it, and start again, as much as I think we would all like to do that.”
Councillor Calum Miller (Lib Dem, Otmoor), the county’s cabinet member for finance, has also stated that such projects were left underfunded by the Conservatives, even before the latest inflationary pressures.
In a report to cabinet, the council said it remains “committed to delivering the HIF2 A40 programme” while “reviewing the scheme and the mitigations to these cost pressures” but added, “it is not known what the implications will be for the scheme at this stage”.
The cabinet is expected to be updated on progress in early 2023, with Councillor Levy keen to ensure the council’s active travel and climate change objectives are factored in. “A review of the plans is clearly wise,” he said.
“My predecessor as county councillor for Eynsham, Charles Mathew, and I were both very critical of the plans, including the Eynsham Park & Ride, primarily because we didn’t think they would be effective.
“Money was always going to be tight, even before the resurgence of inflation. This is a scheme that was developed by the previous administration and adopted by this one which the residents of Eynsham, who know the A40 as well as anyone, opposed.
He asked “that the whole of the work intended for the A40 be included” in the review, adding: “I feel that carrying on with the park and ride now, even though work is underway, might end up with something that isn’t well used.
“Buses can’t go quickly from it to Oxford, and the hospitals, and, of course, back in the other direction. I think it would be prudent to suspend work on the park and ride during the review.”
Advocating the retention of bus and bike lanes from Eynsham and Oxford, Councillor Levy concluded: “There are lots of good things for active and bus travel in the plans that are being reviewed, and there are good things for Cassington, including a new junction which will work much better. Let’s not lose the good parts of the scheme as we necessarily pare back the costs.”
The immediate decision that needed to be taken was to withdraw the compulsory purchase orders for the land required to progress, which the cabinet passed.
There was little choice, given the council could no longer show that the planned works are fully funded, but the report warned the step back could provide another financial challenge.
It read: “In withdrawing the orders, the council may be liable for any abortive costs that objectors have incurred in submitting objections.
“This can often be avoided if the objections can be equally utilised in relation to new orders, but as the timescale for new orders is imprecise, and it is unclear whether new orders might attract those same objections, this is a risk.
“This may result in unfunded cost pressures, which will need to be managed within the HIF2 programme.”