WHEN I said I wanted to go around Oxfordshire talking about developing a 21st century transport network, people said I would only get complaints about potholes. Oh, they of little faith.
After seven public meetings across the county, I can report that residents of Oxfordshire know very well that there are big challenges facing the county and welcomed the chance to join the debate on how to tackle them.
As transport authority for Oxfordshire, we have to think differently, and perhaps think big, if Oxfordshire is to take the opportunities to create jobs and prosperity. At the same time, I am committed to preserving the quality of life that makes the county such a great place to live.
That is what Connecting Oxfordshire is about – linking investment in transport schemes today to a long-term vision for tomorrow.
A passenger station at Cowley bringing people to the area by train or tram
We have a track record of innovation. Oxford had the first park and ride in the world in 1974, and 40 years on it is going strong with more sites, cleaner buses and more parking spaces. But we need to think about other options too.
Monorails, driverless cars or a mass transit system (that’s a tram in old money) may seem unlikely now, but unless we consider these options carefully we will never do anything different. I love my Mini, but l also know we have to create attractive alternatives to the car.
Many of the concerns that people raised at the meetings – ranging from HGVs thundering through narrow village streets to speed bumps and the perennial problems on the A40 – are based on people’s experience today.
They were right to raise them. But these problems can’t be tackled in isolation – the solution comes from making our transport network more efficient.
We need to make better use of the capacity we already have and be smart about investing in improvements that will make a real difference.
That is what we are doing at the moment at Kennington – which I know has caused major delays this week for drivers.
I am genuinely sorry for the inconvenience, but I am also certain the benefits will be worth it in the long run.
This is the first of several schemes that will be happening across Oxfordshire in the next couple of years.
An artist’s impression of a pedestrianised St Giles unveiled at the launch of the county council transport initiative
Each one will create problems, but each one is part of a concerted plan to improve flows on our roads and improve connections between different modes of transport – car, rail, bike, bus and, of course, our own two feet.
The Government recently announced a ‘growth deal’ of over £100m of investment in Oxfordshire, much of it going on transport schemes – including increasing capacity on the A40 west of Oxford, and improving the route through Headington.
This money has come to Oxfordshire because we convinced the Government that investing in transport will create jobs and make an important contribution to growing the nation’s economy. We can capitalise on the opportunities created by world-beating science and technology, but only if people can easily move into and round the county.
The message I got loud and clear at the Connecting Oxfordshire events is that people are not opposed to this growth, but they need to be convinced that there will be investment in the transport system so it can cope with growth. That’s exactly what I intend to do. The solution may or may not include a monorail, but it definitely lies in long-term transport planning and investment in the network so that our main routes can meet growing demand, while reducing the pressure on residential areas.
I’d like to thank everyone who came and made each Connecting Oxfordshire event lively and interesting.
We have gathered lots of useful ideas and feedback, which will feed into writing the new transport plan for Oxfordshire, which will be published for comment next year.
But in fact the work has already started on creating a 21st century transport system for Oxfordshire.