A MONORAIL connecting key locations around Oxford’s ring road is one of the futuristic schemes put forward by Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth.
He outlined his vision for the future at the launch of Connecting Oxfordshire, which looks beyond the £800m of investment in transport initiatives planned for the county up to 2031.
At the launch at County Hall yesterday, Mr Hudspeth said now was the best time to start a debate about the future of transport in the county, with 80,000 new jobs and 106,000 new homes predicted for the area by 2031.
The £800m of investment includes spending already allocated on Oxford and Didcot Parkway station improvements, improvements at Frideswide Square, an upgrade of the A34/M40 junction near Bicester, and work at the A34 Milton and Chilton interchanges.
Mr Hudspeth said: “Oxfordshire is looking forward to a period of new jobs and great economic growth. The council is putting plans in place to ensure that the county and its residents are able to make the most of this and thrive.
“Towns are going to increase in size, with places such as Bicester set to double in size over the next 10 years.
“We can’t rule out ideas that might seem fanciful, such as creating a passenger service on the Cowley branch line, a mass transit system into Oxford.
“And why couldn’t we create a monorail connecting key locations around the city’s ring road?
“Any solution will require strong public and private partnership working together.”
Graham Jones, of business group Rox, gives his reaction
Mr Hudspeth stressed that the monorail idea was his own “personal vision” not the county council’s, but added he wanted to stimulate debate and put forward proposals that could eventually get the backing of the local authority.
He added: “Wherever you are in the world people know Oxford. We are competing with Shanghai and Seattle so we need to make sure we have the right transport infrastructure for that competition.”
Other elements of Mr Hudspeth’s vision include pedestrianisation plans for St Giles and George Street, creating a rail link from Cowley to the city centre, with a platform at the BMW factory, and trams in St Giles.
He said the debate about whether Queen Street should be fully pedestrianised would continue.
Ian and Jo Walker gave plans for St Giles their approval
Corinne Grimley Evans, secretary of Oxford Pedestrians’ Association, said: “We started the campaign to improve St Giles and we are pleased Mr Hudspeth backs us.”
Ann Ducker, leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, said transport improvements in Oxford would benefit the whole county. Colin Cook, the city councillor in charge of city development, said: “We will work with the county council on these proposals – we always do.”
Oxford East MP Andrew Smith said one of the most flexible ways of improving public transport in Oxford was to review the bus routes. He said: “If you want to go from Blackbird Leys to Headington at the moment you have to go in and out of the city centre. If the council talks to the bus companies we might get a better configuration.”
Hugh Jaeger, a spokesman for Bus Users Oxford, who attended the launch, said: “It’s aspirational stuff – but it might not be funded.”
And Peter Headicar, former reader in transport at Oxford Brookes University, said: “An £800m transport system is not realistic if it is to be funded in the normal way.
“Parking levies and congestion charging should be included in the debate.”
John Richards, from Iffley, with an artist's impression of how St Giles could be pedestrianised
Phil Southall, Oxford Bus Company’s operations director, welcomed Cllr Hudspeth’s vision for the future of transport in Oxford.
He added: “We look forward to working with him on the details of a very challenging scheme.”
A spokesman for the BMW Mini plant in Cowley said: “We would be interested to learn more about the council’s vision.”
IDEAS BACKED BY SHOPPERS
SHOPPERS and businesses have backed plans to pedestrianise parts of Oxford city centre and introduce trams to St Giles.
They spoke out after county council leader Ian Hudspeth announced ambitious transport proposals for Oxfordshire.
The vision include the pedestrianisation of St Giles and George Street in Oxford, creating a rail link from Cowley to the city centre, and a tram or guided bus system running from St Giles, north to Water Eaton station, the Begbroke science area and possibly Oxford Airport at Kidlington.
Karen Paterman, pictured reading yesterday's Oxford Mail report outlining the ideas
In St Giles, Mr Hudspeth wants to create a continental-style boulevard between Martyrs’ Memorial and the war memorial at the junction of Woodstock and Banbury roads, with trams or guided buses running either side.
The council leader outlined the proposals, which could come in after 2020, as his “personal vision” for Connecting Oxfordshire, which sets out how the transport system in Oxfordshire will be developed.
John Richards, 72, a retired engineer, from Oxford, said he would not object to trams in St Giles but would not be in favour of the central area being altered.
He said: “St Giles is very elegant, one of Oxford’s best features along with the High Street and if you pave it over it will look like Cheltenham.”
But Jo Walker and husband Ian Walker, teachers from Abingdon, were all in favour of the plans. Mum-of-two Mrs Walker, 38, said: “I love the idea of pedestrianisation so people can mill around and enjoy the feel of the architecture.
“I hope the trams would not block the views of the colleges.”
Mr Walker, 44, added: “I’m all in favour of this.
“Other UK cities are much better on pedestrianisation.
“When you have children you don’t want to be looking over your shoulder all the time worrying about buses.”
Charles Bennie, 23, who is studying modern history at St Hugh’s College, said: “I’m not sure if enough people would use the trams or why people would choose them over cars. The council needs to do lots of investigation before they start this off.”
Lorna Cameron, from Summertown, who works for Oxford University’s computer science department, said: “I would be amazed if this plan for St Giles ever happened.”
Karen Peterman, 38, manager of Toni and Guy hairdressers in George Street, said she was in favour of pedestrianising George Street.
She said: “Pedestrianisation would be the best thing that could happen in this street.
“I have worked in the street for 20 years and I have seen shoppers knocked about by buses and cars.
“The buses create pollution and if they were removed I think it could boost trade.”
Natasha Godfrey, assistant manager of Byron burger restaurant in George Street, agreed, adding: “It would be nicer if buses were not coming along here at all times of day and night.”
Mike Vousden, 66, of Church Green, Witney, a neuroscience researcher, said he would be in favour of the pedestrianisation of George Street if bus stops could be moved elsewhere.