Oxfordshire's highways chief has defended controversial traffic schemes in Oxford insisting they will “reclaim the city from congestion” but added the county council is “being bold” with the project.

Andrew Gant, cabinet member for transport on Oxfordshire County Council, spoke exclusively to us on Monday about the upcoming traffic filters trial which will lead to six city roads being closed off to private vehicles that don't have exemptions.

The trial will see filters placed on Hythe Bridge Street, St Cross Road, St Clement’s Street, Thames Street, Marston Ferry Road and Hollow Way.

But some traders and motorists have hit out at the plans, raising concerns the filters will discourage people from visiting the city centre and their stores.

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Oxford Mail: Traffic in Botley Road, Oxford.Traffic in Botley Road, Oxford. (Image: Oxford Mail)

An experimental traffic regulation order means the trial will go live in November.

Oxfordshire County Council is also due to start a public consultation this autumn on expanding the Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) to a wider area of the city centre.

In addition, the authority is in the early stages of proposing a workplace parking levy, an annual charge to employers for workplace parking spaces which was set out in a budget meeting at County Hall in February.

Oxford Mail: A photo taken at the county council budget meeting in February.A photo taken at the county council budget meeting in February. (Image: Noor Qurashi)

Speaking to us on the traffic filters trial, Mr Gant said: “This is about a city and a county that works best for everybody.

“Oxford has a problem with congestion as there are just too many vehicles and we have a medieval street plan.

“It’s a good scheme. It will help and make our city better.

“There will be nowhere you can’t drive to which you can currently and if you have regular hospital appointments you are exempt.

Oxford Mail: Andrew Gant had lots to say at the interview.Andrew Gant had lots to say at the interview. (Image: Noor Qurashi.)

“It will make your journey much easier.”

The traffic filters trial will operate from Monday to Sunday from 7am to 7pm.

But Marston Ferry Road and Hollow Way will operate from Monday to Saturday from 7-9am and 3-6pm.

Mr Gant’s comments come amid criticism low traffic neighbourhood schemes – a policy endorsed by the council - have made journeys harder by limiting routes to motorists and he has been blamed for creating the congestion in the first place.

The highways chief believes “congestion has always been bad in Oxford” and did not agree removing the controversial LTN scheme would help ease traffic building up.

Oxford Mail: LTN in east Oxford.LTN in east Oxford. (Image: Ed Nix.)

More than 1,800 people signed a petition raising fears the filters in Thames Street and Hythe Bridge Street will make Botley Road the main access route from the west.

The traffic filters will use ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras to catch private car drivers on short sections of the roads.

Any driver going through a filter who is neither exempt nor holding a permit is to be issued a £70 fine.

As part of the scheme, permits will be available for blue badge holders, health workers and professional and non professional care workers as well as householders affected.

All other vehicles including buses, coaches, taxis, vans, mopeds and HGVs will be allowed at all times.

Mr Gant insisted the measures would not have a negative impact on city centre trade.

This is despite business owners such as a manager at John Lewis in the city Westgate saying “the best way to support local businesses is to open Oxford up, not to close it” and other Cowley Road traders such as the owners of Chinese restaurant Rice Box saying they felt “abandoned” in expressing their concern to the council about a loss of customers.

Oxford Mail: Rice Box on Cowley Road.Rice Box on Cowley Road. (Image: Ed Halford)

Mr Gant insisted there had been “masses of consultation”.

He said "it’s not for me to speak on behalf of individual businesses” but referenced a survey from the Coalition for Healthy Streets and Active Travel (CoHSAT) to suggest there had not been an overwhelmingly negative impact on businesses.

A recent survey carried out by the Independent Oxford Alliance Party in Magdalen Road in east Oxford – an LTN street – suggested the vast majority of traders on the road "strongly believed" the measures "had a negative impact on their business".

Oxford Mail: Magdalen Road trader Munir Hussain.Magdalen Road trader Munir Hussain. (Image: Noor Qurashi.)

But Mr Gant said: “The traffic filters scheme will produce really tangible benefits to Oxford as a whole.

“Once we have reclaimed the city from congestion, just think what we could do.

“It’s fair to say we are being bolder (than other counties). 

“It’s not a scheme designed to stop people doing things. It’s a scheme designed to make the city work best for everybody and it will.”

Conservative county and West Oxfordshire district councillor, Liam Walker, who was cabinet member for transport under the previous administration, said: “I do not accept that the traffic filters are a good scheme and this Lib Dem lockdown approach in Oxford is going to cost residents more and result in more businesses closing.

Oxford Mail: Liam Walker.Liam Walker. (Image: West Oxfordshire District Council.)

“The idea that the only way into the city centre will be along the Botley Road is utterly bonkers and segregating the city in this way is not something I can support and if the Conservatives take back the county council next year and I am in charge of highways again, I will be switching these Lib Dem cameras off.”

The full exclusive interview with Mr Gant can be found here.

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