Comparisons between the Didcot road project and paused A40 improvement plans dismissed

Councillors dismiss comparisons between the Didcot road project and paused A40 improvement plans
Councillors have dismissed the comparisons between the Didcot road project and paused A40 improvement plans

Work is to continue on a major road-building project in Didcot after comparisons with the paused A40 improvement plans were dismissed.

Protestors gathered outside Oxfordshire County Council and sang reworded carols this week in a bid to quash the £296 million HIF1 programme – a combination of four projects to ensure there is the capacity to connect 12,000 houses set to be built to the south of Oxford.

It has been mired in controversy on environmental and cost grounds, with the county council set to borrow up to £30 million to see through a project inherited from the previous Conservative administration.

The Fair Deal Alliance – the coalition of Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green councillors now in charge – say it has been left underfunded.

Read more: Go-ahead for the next phase of the HIF1 Didcot road plan

Inflationary pressures have since added to that problem with the council’s cabinet member for finance, Councillor Calum Miller (Lib Dem, Otmoor), stating in July that “we are not prepared to put more money into it” with “value engineering” required if costs continue to spiral.

The council has committed to such restrictions in all capital projects with work on HIF2 – a £106 million programme to improve the A40 between Witney and the north of Oxford and support building more than 20,000 new homes.

However, Councillor Duncan Enright (Lab, Witney North & East), the county’s cabinet member for travel and development strategy, was keen to distinguish between the two projects.

Victoria Shepherd, one of the protestors who also serves on Appleford Parish Council, asked whether it “would be logical to withdraw the current HIF1 plans – contentious and outdated as they are – to allow time to amend and rescope, focusing on lower carbon and more sustainable transport”, drawing comparisons to what she referred to as the “withdrawn” Witney project.

Councillor Enright said: “The A40 improvements known as HIF2 have not been withdrawn.

“While the previous HIF2 compulsory purchase order, or CPO, has now been withdrawn, our commitment to improving the A40 corridor remains. A revised HIF2 scheme proposal and refreshed compulsory purchase order will be brought forward in very early 2023.

Read more: Council issues statement on HIF2 A40 improvements programme

“The increased funding for HIF1 was agreed relatively recently in early 2022, and while the challenges, especially inflation, are similar across all our infrastructure programmes, we are confident that the final scheme will be both affordable and with an increased focus on our priorities such as those mentioned – public transport, cycling and walking.

“The HIF1 programme is planned to enter its detailed design phase shortly, and this will be a further opportunity to manage costs effectively but also review how it meets those said transport priorities.”

Ms Shepherd added: “From the villagers’ perspective, we are very keen to encourage the council to review the costs and help demonstrate to south Oxfordshire how the money will be best spent to improve our public transport.

“We do remain concerned that some of the mitigations (public transport and active travel elements) that have been promised perhaps might fall out of the scheme given all the industry challenges that are being faced at the moment.”

Councillor Enright replied: “I very much hope not, and we will certainly be working on that. All of our working will be in public, so I hope you continue to feedback.”

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