Network Rail bosses have apologised for backtracking on their pledge to reopen the Botley Road for four months during a £161m scheme to improve Oxford rail station.

In a shock announcement yesterday, the rail authority said it no longer planned to reopen the major route at the rail bridge from October 29 until March 2024 due to a number of 'unique challenges'.

The road closed in April and was due to reopen on October 29, with a further seven-month closure planned from March 2024 to October 2024.

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But unforeseen issues encountered by contractors mean Botley Road will not be able to reopen next month, and the route will remain closed at the rail bridge until October 2024.

Work on the station and railway upgrade had to be paused in June after contractors unearthed an inverted brick arch, thought to be part of the original Victorian drainage system.

Work was also put on hold in July, when a nearby area had to be evacuated following the discovery of a Second World War-era hand grenade within the work site.

Oxford Mail: Roadworks in Botley Road

The historic arch is far larger than Network Rail first thought - reaching a metre deep and stretching for around 100 metres between Mill Street and Frideswide Square – and it could form part of the structural support of the railway bridge.

Toby Elliott, head of communications for Network Rail's western region, said it had not been possible to find out in advance the extent of the Victorian arch.

He added: "We want to say we are incredibly sorry to both the residents and businesses impacted. We will work with you and the council to try to mitigate this.

"This will be disappointing for residents, businesses and anyone who comes into Oxford."

Mr Elliott added that contingency funds had been built into the £161m budget but it would now be "an absolute challenge" to stick to it now an additional four months of work has been added.

Oxford Mail: Toby Elliott, head of communications for Network Rail Toby Elliott, head of communications for Network Rail (Image: Photo: Andy Ffrench)"We are keeping the Department for Transport up to date on this," he said.

Mr Ellott urged businesses impacted by the road closure to get in touch with Network Rail to see what the rail authority could do to help.

He added that the city and county councils continued to work constructively with Network Rail "and challenge us when they need to".

Julian Le Vay, a spokesman for residents' group West Oxford Access, said the decision was bad news for residents and local businesses.

He added: "This is such a massive failure of any kind of democratic control - it's gobsmacking.

"Network Rail can paralyse the whole of West Oxford with no sanction whatsoever."

Oxford West and Abingdon MP Layla Moran also condemned the decision not to take a break from the work.

Oxford Mail: Network Rail works in Botley RoadShe added: "I absolutely share local residents’ anger and outrage at the news that Network Rail will be extending the closure of Botley Road.

"The closure has caused significant disruption for people living in Botley, Cumnor, and surrounding areas and many communities feel completely cut off.

“Last week I wrote to the Department of Transport asking them to ensure all alternative options had been looked at.

"Residents need reassurance that this significant disruption is justified and proportionate.

“I have also asked the government to make sure sufficient mitigations are put in place for residents and businesses.

"Network Rail are asking a whole community to live with enormous levels of disruption and they need to ensure they have done everything possible to support residents through this period.”

Teri Devlin, who runs Pickle & Lime greengrocers in Botley Road with her husband Joe, said the latest announcement from Network Rail was "very disappointing".

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Andrew Gant, Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet member for highways management said: “Obviously it is disappointing that Botley Road will remain closed for longer than expected but there was no alternative due to the difficulties faced by Network Rail in this complex project."

Oxford Mail: Once completed, the station and railway upgrades - part of the Oxfordshire Connect programme – will provide passengers with a bigger and better Oxford station and an expanded railway which will enable more services for passengers and freight, with reduced journey times.  

The road network near the station will also be improved, with safer junctions with Botley Road and more opportunities for sustainable transport, including enhanced bus travel as well as more space for cyclists and pedestrians through the addition of a four-metre cycle and footway on each side of the main road.   

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About the author 

Andy is the Trade and Tourism reporter for the Oxford Mail and you can sign up to his newsletters for free here. 

He joined the team more than 20 years ago and he covers community news across Oxfordshire.

His Trade and Tourism newsletter is released every Saturday morning. 

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