‘OXFORDSHIRE does not support the expressway, wherever it is built’ is the message councillors will send to the government.

At their meeting on Tuesday, Oxfordshire’s county councillors voted in favour of a motion to send a letter to the government, announcing they would not support a proposed major road between Oxford and Cambridge.

The motion made by Labour councillor John Sanders said the planned Oxford to Cambridge Expressway ‘flies in the face of Oxfordshire’s commitment to reduce the use of the car.’

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The motion explained car use needed to be reduced to tackle the climate emergency, and said the council would still support plans for the Oxford to Cambridge Arc and England’s Economic Heartland, two schemes to boost jobs, housing and infrastructure the county is involved in.

Mr Sanders’ motion said this would be on the understanding work on the East West Rail Link would be sped up.

The motion said: “The development of the railway line will ensure the delivery of the growth and housing required, without the environmental impact of a road cutting across the centre of rural England.”

Oxford Mail:

Anti-Expressway campaigners in south Oxfordshire last year. Picture: Ed Nix.

Lib Dem councillor for Wheatley, Tim Bearder, tried and failed to amend the motion to address concerns about housing which could spring up around the new road.

His amendment was condemned by both Labour and Tory councillors.

Labour’s group leader Liz Brighouse and council leader Ian Hudspeth both said it was wrong to focus on the new homes proposed along the Expressway route.

Ms Brighouse added the new road would be an outdated mode of transport and compared it to building canals during the rise of the railways in the 19th century.

There were warnings from the council cabinet not to kick out the Expressway before a route was agreed.

Mr Hudspeth warned councillors said: “I cannot support this motion because I think we have got to wait until we see exactly what they details are.”

A planned route for the expressway was due to be published before the end of 2019, but due to the general election has been delayed.

In October, Highways England said a consultation on the route of the road had been postponed while design work continued.

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Mr Hudspeth’s warning was echoed by Yvonne Constance, cabinet member for the environment.

Ms Constance said: “This motion is premature. You all make the assumption it is a straight through highway.”

She said that the chairman of the England’s Economic Heartland partnership, Dave Hodgson, the mayor of Bedford, had described the main aim of the project as ‘connectivity.’

This, said Ms Constance, could mean a series of roads linking Oxford and Cambridge, rather than one large highway.

Oxford Mail:

The A34 north of Oxford.

Ms Constance added claims that the road would encourage the creation of dormitory towns for London commuters were unfounded.

She said: “It is not going anywhere near London. The most important thing about the East West Rail and the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway is that we are, for the first time, not proposing infrastructure which is radial, and doesn’t go into London.”

Bob Johnston, Lib Dem councillor for Kennington and Radley said the project would have a ‘huge carbon footprint’ whatever route was chosen, and said the council should oppose it based on its aims to become carbon neutral.

Before councillors discussed the Expressway, they had discussed a report on climate action, six months after first acknowledging the climate emergency.

In its April meeting, the council voted to make sure the climate crisis was at the heart of all their decisions.

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David Gilmour, a public speaker on behalf of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said the new road would ruin vast swathes of rural Oxfordshire forever, and urged councillors to support the motion.

Mr Gilmour said his father, Ian Gilmour, had served as in the governments of Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher and made an appeal to the council’s Conservative cabinet.

He said: “There can be no greater Conservative cause than the conservation of our countryside and the preservation of our land.”

As the motion not to support the Expressway passed there was clapping from across the chamber.

However, one councillor muttered ‘what’s changed? nothing!’ from the back of the room.