Oxfordshire County Council is considering whether to formalise how it engages with stakeholders and the public on major highways projects.
The idea of creating a co-production guide for highways projects was mooted after two rounds of public consultation led to changes to proposals for the Kidlington roundabout.
The project includes new and improved bus lanes, segregated cycle routes and paths and new cycle and pedestrian crossings, and Councillor Duncan Enright (Lab, Witney North & East) – the county’s cabinet member for travel & development strategy – welcomed feedback that inspired “one of the most dramatic changes” he had seen in any scheme.
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Co-production is where various parties come together to shape the council’s work, and while county officer Aron Wisdom, who is leading the Kidlington roundabout project, acknowledged that it could have happened sooner, he said the process had been “painless”.
Mr Wisdom said: “The scheme was developed in conjunction with Cherwell District Council’s local plan and at a time when the emphasis was on trying to provide the active travel and bus priority without impacting on general traffic, trying to get a scheme that worked for everyone, which is always quite difficult in itself.
“As it came through the process, the landscape changed to a degree, and the learning we can take is to react to that changing landscape.
“I think there could have been better engagement, so taking that back and making sure we are going through the co-production process at a very early stage and throughout the process.
“We would probably have arrived at a similar scheme to the one we have now, probably a year to a year-and-a-half earlier. We will take that as a lesson learned.”
He added: “It is not something we see as a chore. We had a really productive two or three sessions with Cyclox, OCN (Oxfordshire Cycling Network) and some residents of Kidlington. We tried to make it as inclusive as we could.”
Councillor Enright added: “I am aware that adult social care has a co-production handbook, presumably specific to their needs, but it would be nice to think we could produce something similar for our own use, possibly that with tweaks or building on the process that has been used here.
“We could share it with all of the contractors who work with us to see whether we could build this into the process.
“It feels to me that, in this case, we have ended up with a better scheme and lower costs, which is going to be great for the taxpayer. At the same time, it is something that works rather better and is more cognisant of local views.
“That is not always going to be the case, we know that, but it does feel like it will be worth it if we can pick up learnings here and share them elsewhere.
“One of the dangers of co-production is not who is in the room, more who isn’t. There is sometimes a feeling that people are excluded from conversations somehow, but nonetheless, I think this is a great example of how it can work really well.”
Mr Wisdom said he would look into the option and agreed it “would certainly be a useful tool”.