HIGHWAY bosses are set to recommend a new £3.5bn expressway passes south of Oxford through protected Green Belt land, it has been claimed.

Senior figures say the route – known as 'Option A' – is favoured by officials developing plans for the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway.

It would see a new carriageway branch off the A34 and pass between the city and Abingdon, before crossing the M40 at Wheatley and proceeding north of Aylesbury to Milton Keynes.

Business leader Nigel Tipple said it could be a major boost to business in Oxford, while rural campaigner Michael Tyce argues it would mean the city limits being extended further into protected land.

The new road would go ahead instead of alternative options to build the route west of Oxford, going on to Bicester and Buckingham.

A Highways England spokesman last night insisted no option had been chosen yet and stressed the plans were still at an early stage.

But multiple senior sources told the Oxford Mail that Option A is understood to be favoured by highway bosses, who recently held a series of private briefings with local authorities on the scheme.

One source said: "The next phase of the scheme is being finalised and, at the moment, that is the option they are likely to go with."

The expressway plans are part of efforts to slash journey times to Cambridge, which along with Oxford and Milton Keynes are seen as part of the 'Brain Belt' – where a concentration of high tech companies and their employees are based.

But the new road is also expected to divert through-traffic away from Oxford's ring road and substantially cut chronic congestion on the A34, according to a study published last November.

Nigel Tipple, chief executive of Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, said the scheme could be a major boost to businesses.

He said: "It also provides the county with a platform to demonstrate the value of our businesses both to the local and national economies.

"There is a huge potential for growth and that will continue to be hugely important as the country moves towards Brexit."

And Oxfordshire County Council spokeswoman Emily Reed said: "We are working closely with Highways England and colleagues across England's Economic Heartland alliance, with a partnership approach to developing the project to ensure we get the best outcome for Oxfordshire, in terms of new infrastructure that benefits our congested network and supports growth and jobs."

The full route of the expressway would run from M4 Chievely Junction 13 to the Girton Interchange in Cambridge.

It would be expected to use existing sections of the A34 between Chieveley and Oxford, the A421 from Milton Keynes to St Neots and then the A428 to Cambridge.

New road would be built between Abingdon and Milton Keynes. It is expected to reduce journey times from one hour and 40 minutes to just under an hour.

Highways England also argues it will help deliver 'housing to support the fast growing economies in the towns and cities located along the corridor'.

But a spokesman for the Campaign for Rural England's Oxfordshire branch claimed choosing a route that passed south of Oxford through the Green Belt was unnecessary and would encourage an expansion of the city.

Michael Tyce said: "It makes much more sense to have the road follow the existing A34 route as that is the best way to get to Cambridge.

"If this scheme goes ahead, we would be looking for assurances that – just as when the M40 was built – this would just be seen as a corridor for movement.

"This is supposed to be a point-to-point route, so it should not be constructed to support development."

A Highways England spokesman said: "Highways England has been given £27 million to fund development of the options for an expressway to better link Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge.

"This will enable the options for this expressway to be developed in greater detail, including further analysis, environmental surveys, stakeholder engagement and a consultation that will be open for all of those with an interest in this work to take part in to help shape our decision."