The councillor in charge of Oxfordshire council’s highways has hit back at a claim that the county’s policies are too Oxford-centric.
Councillor Andrew Gant (Lib Dem, Wolvercote & Summertown) railed against suggestions from political opponent Councillor Ian Snowdon (Con, Didcot West), accusing him of taking “an opportunity to grandstand”.
Councillor Snowdon questioned the levels of bus service cuts in rural areas, referring to “empty pledges” to reduce car journeys, before raising a query about staffing levels on the county’s highways teams.
He claimed that “the northern team hasn’t once been fully staffed in the past 12 months and the southern team (is) never more than 66 per cent staffed”, describing the city’s team as “fully staffed”.
He asked: “When will you start being the cabinet member of highways for Oxfordshire and not just Oxford city?”
His response read: “No serious commentator who has observed Oxfordshire affairs for more than a nanosecond in the past 16 months could think that this (Fair Deal) Alliance administration (Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green) doesn’t take transport seriously.
“The boldness and ambition of our actions, and the quantum of public response, is a testament to that. This is a striking contrast with the record of the previous (Conservative) administration.
“Pledges to reduce car journeys are not empty. They are a serious attempt to address the climate emergency, health, wellbeing, pollution, safety, public realm and much else, as well as being aimed at promoting a range of alternatives, including better public transport, walking and cycling.”
The row continued during a meeting of the full council last week. Councillor Snowdon quoted part of that response and said: “I think you mistakenly added the word shire to the end of Oxford, Councillor Gant.
“Towns and villages have seen bus cuts followed by more bus cuts, except for your predecessor (Councillor Tim Bearder, Lib Dem, Wheatley), he has more buses in his division.”
Councillor Gant said: “You started by talking about transport provision outside Oxford. You then said my predecessor, a distinguished servant of this county, has enhanced services in his division, which is outside Oxford. You have directly contradicted yourself.
“You speak as a representative of the administration that removed bus subsidies completely.
“I’ll list just some of the things this administration has done, directly, to address transport issues outside of Oxford – the 20 miles-per-hour (mph) scheme has been taken up by virtually every community in our county, the school streets scheme is available across the county.
“Just this week, we introduced rationalised and much cheaper park and ride fares, specifically to help people who commute in and out of Oxford.
“Youth fares rationalised right across the county, the bus service improvement plan, a fleet of electric buses, entirely battery powered coming in and out of Oxford, the Local Transport and Connectivity Plan, which has established a hierarchy, area strategies which began with the centre of Oxford and will soon move out to other towns and villages – that is not a bad list.”
Councillor Gant’s response to the staffing levels read: “Reference to highways could relate to many areas of work. All the teams do work geographically, and I understand we have seen vacancies remaining outstanding for long periods of time for a variety of reasons.
“In most cases work has been covered through the use of agency or consultancy support. I have asked for resourcing levels to be reviewed to ensure we have the appropriate levels and type of staffing for the expected level of work in line with corporate priorities and funding available.”
Councillor Snowdon cited an example from his division, a 20 mph traffic calming scheme that was “approved well over a year ago” without being completed. He asked: “I wonder how many 20 mph approved road calming measures are delayed well over a year in Oxford currently?”
Councillor Gant said there is a published timetable for such works, adding: “If you have a specific question about a specific scheme, take it up with me, don’t use it as an opportunity to grandstand in this council.”
He rounded off his comments by saying: “The narrative you are making is simply false.”