CHANGES to make Oxfordshire's roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians after the lockdown need to be ambitious to make sure the county does not lose out on further funding.

That is the warning from a group of councillors from around Oxfordshire whose job is to promote walking and bicycle use.

The four walking and cycling champions from different districts of Oxfordshire have penned a letter to the county council's cabinet member for the environment, Yvonne Constance, warning that measures like cutting back grass verges and repainting road markings may not be 'in the spirit' of a government fund to encourage 'active travel' as the lockdown lifts.

Oxfordshire County Council has been granted £600,000 of funding from the government's emergency active travel fund to make quick changes to the roads so walkers and cyclists can feel safer and maintain a distance.

But the cycling champions are worried that if this money is not spent properly, it might risk the county's claim to a second tranche of funding, valued at £2,388,000, which will help to make more long term changes to travel in Oxfordshire.

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Ms Constance, meanwhile, said the funding and its affects, were being spread fairly throughout the county, and cutting verges was a way of making rural cycle routes more accessible.

The four walking and cycling champions are: Louise Upton, of Oxford City Council, Dan Levy, of West Oxfordshire District Council, Eric de la Harpe, of Vale of White Horse District Council and Sam Casey-Rerhaye, of South Oxfordshire District Council.

While district councils are responsible for services like collecting bins and providing council houses, it falls to Oxfordshire County Council to look after roads and other transport needs.

In their letter to the county, the four cycling champions 'urge the county to take more ambitious and effective measures and to do so quickly'.

The letter continues: "The measures announced so far amount mostly to the maintenance of existing cycle lanes, including vegetation clearance and line repainting, and to some creation of modal filters on some side streets mostly in the city.

"This is not in the spirit of the DfT instructions and nor will it create the space we need for people using active travel as the schools return and shops reopen."

After sending the letter, Lib Dem West Oxfordshire councillor Mr Levy said: "Whereas some other places already bike lanes in place, Oxfordshire is doing things incredibly slowly."

He added that the district councils, including his own in West Oxfordshire, had already begun to make changes they were able to, like lowering the speed limit in Witney town centre.

Mr Levy also said 'normal maintenance work' like cutting back vegetation should be paid for out of the council's existing budget.

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Oxford city centre as shops reopened on Monday. Picture: Ed Nix

In other areas including Leicestershire and the London borough of Kingston upon Thames, temporary bike lanes have been rolled out by using traffic cones.

South Oxfordshire councillor Ms Casey-Rerhaye said something similar could be achieved in Oxfordshire, but added she favoured fixed cones or bollards which were partly buried in the road, to give cyclists the feel of a segregated bike lane.

She added that the measures should be about making cyclists feel confident they were safe on the road.

The letter has not yet received a formal reply, but Ms Constance said she was 'delighted by the enthusiasm' for change among Oxfordshire's districts.

The cabinet member for the environment and transport confirmed that cutting back vegetation and repainting road markings had been paid for from the emergency active travel fund.

But she added: "Bringing forward maintenance: it may be in the budget but if we didn’t, this might not have been done until later in the year.

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"There is funding being spent on the vegetation clearance. We agreed that the emphasis should on the deliverable projects.

"We had to set up in four weeks and deliver in eight weeks. Some of it has also gone on where we can make an improvement to cycleways and cycle parking."

Ms Constance also said that the £2,388,000 had already been allocated to Oxfordshire, but that the government would 'claw' some of it back if it did not like how the county had spent it.

However, the councillor said she did not expect this to happen.

She added that Oxfordshire had had plans for cycle improvements in the pipeline for years, and the money was a chance to speed up some of the changes planned.

This, she said was also the case for other plans, including new bus gates in the city, which may be put in place more quickly with the second round of emergency funding.

Roughly a third of the travel funding is set to be spent in Oxford itself, with the remaining two thirds divided between surrounding districts.

A survey of all county councillors was undertaken in May to see what changes could help in their areas.

Oxfordshire County Council is also hoping to make streets around schools safe by stopping cars from using them, and rolling out 20mph zones in towns including Banbury, Bicester, Kidlington, Abingdon, Didcot, Faringdon, Henley, Thame, Wallingford and Wantage.

Around the world, there has been an emphasis of encouraging people to take up cycling and walking as the lockdown eases to stop air pollution levels from rising again.

In Milan, in northern Italy, a series of ambitious measures were rolled out, which have been held up as an example in other countries.

In May, UK Transport secretary Grant Shapps announced there would be funding to help people commute to work by bike or walking, to avoid using cars, and to stop people catching coronavirus by sitting close together on public transport.