Solving the problem of the A34 will be the key to unlocking the future growth potential of the Thames Valley and its growth aspirations, says Robin Shepherd, a planning consultant.

Mr Shepherd is one of many voices – including county council leader Ian Hudspeth – calling for a radical re-think alongside substantial investment around a long-term strategic plan for the A34, which he argues is not just vital for Oxfordshire but for motorists travelling to the Midlands and south coast.

He said it is critical for the aspirations for the Thames Valley, totalling billions of pounds of private and public sector investment – including the redevelopment of Oxford Station, a new Garden Town for Didcot, rapid bus routes linking key locations and the Oxford and Cambridge expressway.

But he said the A34 is a key element of bringing all of this together and must be a priority to bring the full benefit of the expansion to the county's economy.

The route is already overstretched and unsafe, he said. For example, lorries make up 10 per cent of the traffic on the route – but account for almost one in five accidents.

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Mr Shepherd said: “The A34 is a key spinal corridor running through the heart of England and it has vastly outgrown its original purposes. Without a radical and well considered plan for both car, HGV and public transport along this spine, this will become the Achilles heel to our growth.

“It’s clear that the A34 is the ‘weakest link’ and it must be tackled now as a priority. The M4 corridor, in particular, continues to be a growth hub but its prosperity can only cascade out when the A34 stops being a bottleneck.

“Economies across the UK and world focus on transport corridors. While the M3, M4 and new expressway linking Oxford and Cambridge all have a strategy for their improvement, the A34 remains virtually untalked about – it’s just not on the (national) political agenda – despite its importance to the Midlands, Thames Valley and South coast economies.

“The reason it is not at the moment is that the route crosses many local authorities and there are many political boundaries.”

That said, a new Oxford-bound bus lane on the A34 has been agreed by the Oxfordshire Growth Board.

Mr Shepherd said the work was a short-term ‘plaster’ – but said a strategy looking at the entire stretch was needed.

He added: “The A34 is just not on the debate – and we need a debate. We need everybody round the table with a solution that people can buy into – short-term and longer-term. It’s about everyone coming together and driving a strategic plan.”

Potential solutions, including limiting HGVs to the inside lane and improving signage, have been proposed for the A34.

But Mr Shepherd suggested more significant measures are needed. Among solutions that could be explored includes using the disused railway line that runs alongside the A34 to increase capacity or even making better use of the line of the road to include a dedicated public transport route.

Another option could be to develop it into an expressway with flyover junctions, motorway-style gantries, and better road surfaces. That is unpopular with some.

These are all ideas that other parts of the UK and overseas have been planning for many years, he said – the A34 has just been left behind.

Mr Shepherd added: “If we just tinker with the A34, I think we are missing the point. We need to be driving an agenda. If we don’t have a clear plan for something we are going to do differently, then it’s just going to keep getting worse. I join the A34 many days and I’m confronted by tractors and combine harvesters.

“But I think there’s something much more fundamental than restrictions that needs to be done. What we need to do is look at other innovative infrastructure projects, such as the Oxford and Cambridge expressway, which will revolutionise east-west connectivity.

“We need the same kind of thinking applied to north-south in connecting the Midlands with the Thames Valley and South Coast.

“At the heart of the debate should be driving economic growth – and we can only drive growth by connecting places like Southampton, Winchester, Newbury and Oxford.”

But, he added: “Nobody knows the cost until we come up with a plan. The Government is releasing funding and it’s paid for by growth. The priority now is to get a plan – and ask for it. The cost of not doing something is much greater.”