THE Government is in ‘listening mode’ and has taken notice of the growing clamour over the controversial Oxford-Cambridge expressway, a transport minister has said.

Jesse Norman came face-to-face with anti-expressway protesters after he left a meeting in Oxford with MP Layla Moran, Highways England chiefs and councillors.

Plans for the expressway – which could cost as much as £7.3bn – could see the forced demolition of homes along the A34 in North Hinksey and Botley.

Oxford Mail:

In January, Mr Norman was invited to Botley by Ms Moran and he took her up on the offer yesterday.

Ms Moran said: “It was a really good meeting. I made it really clear how little space there is for expansion on either side of the A34 and the human impact of it all.

“There are young families, elderly people [living in homes along the A34]. The idea of moving is incredibly distressing.

“We want him to rule out the route going through Botley.”

Oxford Mail:

Mr Norman said he was keen to hear from residents about the impact of the road ahead of any decision on the potential route. That is likely to be made in 2020.

He said: “The meeting was with the local MP and councillors to listen to their concerns that they have about one of the possible routes.

“We now go through statutory consultation. We are very much in listening mode.

“It was very interesting. They talked about all the kind of concerns they have like the A34, roads, housing.”

Following their meeting, Ms Moran, Mr Norman and Highways England’s project director for the expressway, Matt Stafford, toured areas that would be hit hard if the A34 was expanded to accommodate the new road.

Oxford Mail:

That included Botley Cemetery, which includes Commonwealth War Graves. That contains the graves of 742 soldiers. The vast majority were British, but 70 of those were from abroad.

The expressway project has been criticised for allowing little input from community groups and none from ordinary residents.

But David Kay, the chairman of North Hinksey Parish Council, said the meeting with Mr Norman was a ‘positive move forward…as we were finally able to have direct input into the process.’

He added: “We are hopeful that this option may be ruled out completely in the not too distant future.

“Also, we have a commitment from Highways England that they will now continue direct discussions with us and other local parish councils, hopefully including attendance at one of our meetings before year end.”

Highways England has said its estimates for an expressway built to the west of Oxford range from between £2.7bn at the cheapest to £7.3bn at the most expensive. The ‘most likely’ cost, it has said, would be £4.1bn.

Chris Church, of the No Expressway Alliance, said he had been made aware of Mr Norman’s visit earlier this week. About 20 protesters greeted Mr Norman as he left the meeting at the Seacourt Hall in Botley.

Mr Church said: “We were very pleased with people turning out to let the minister know there’s plenty of local opposition.

“We stated that Oxford needs homes but these homes need to be in Oxford or near the city and not strung out across the countryside.

“He said something like: it’s all part of an integrated transport strategy.”

Highways England announced in September that it had picked a corridor – or a broad path where the road could go – that could pass east or west of Oxford.

It angered council leaders, who have demanded clarity from the Government.

Earlier this month, the Oxfordshire Growth Board, which is made up of all Oxfordshire council leaders, wrote to transport secretary Chris Grayling and Highways England.

In the letter to Mr Grayling, Jane Murphy, the chairwoman of the Growth Board and leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, said communities are unable to ‘fully understand the likely impact of the project’.

Other councillors have complained they are also being asked to support further house building without knowing where the multi-billion pound road will be built.

Ministers are keen to use the area – or ‘arc’ – between Oxford and Cambridge to harness growth, especially amid uncertainty over Brexit.

In Oxfordshire, the Government has already agreed to provide £215m in funding to support 100,000 new homes – but most of those were already in councils’ planning blueprints before the announcement last November.

Other transport projects are also said to support growth, including the East West Rail network, which will also run from Oxford to Cambridge. That will reopen the Varsity Line, which closed in 1967.