AFTER three years work is finally set to begin on the £3.5m Thornhill Park and Ride expansion – but not before the neighbours are turfed out first.

But the people of Sandhills need not worry, as council workers will spend the next couple of months relocating the area’s grass snakes to a field east of the site.

Their relocation is part of Oxfordshire County Council’s scheme to increase the number of spaces at the well-used site from 850 to 1,356.

Expansion work will be carried out to the west of the car park and is expected to begin in October and be completed by March.

The county council will carry out ecological mitigation to offset the impact of the expansion during the summer.

This involves creating a new habitat for the grass snakes, which live in the neighbouring field.

Chunks of turf from the extension site will be swapped with the topsoil in the habitat field to effectively move the snakes’ environment to a new location.

Neil Clennell, head of conservation at The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust, said: “It’s the right thing to do.

“Just because it is the most common snake in Britain doesn’t make it a common animal. Grass snakes are not as common as they used to be.”

The species is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which makes it an offence to kill grass snakes. The snake is a non-venomous species which is widely found in lowland areas of England and Wales.

The species’ only defences are playing dead or emitting a foul-smelling liquid.

Sue Holden, who lives in nearby Delbush Avenue, said: “I had no idea there were grass snakes in the fields, but given the close proximity of Shotover Country Park, it comes as no surprise.

“We have waited this long for the expansion of Thornhill, so I guess a few more months is not going to make much difference.

“The extra parking spaces are so desperately needed and it will reduce the need to park in neighbouring streets.

“Some days you go outside and it is like Piccadilly Circus because there are cars parked on both sides of the road.”

Thornhill is used not only to get into the city, but also by the Airline bus to London airports and others into the capital.

It is the third smallest of the park and ride car parks, though expansion would take it to within 30 spaces of the current largest at Redbridge.

There are five park and rides around Oxford, but Thornhill is one of only two that are free to park in.

Oxford Bus Company’s managing director Philip Kirk said: “The county council is to be commended for acknowledging the importance of the scheme in difficult financial times.”

Plans to expand the car park were first put forward in 2009 but it is finally going ahead after a Government grant last year.

The expansion will include a trial bike-hire scheme similar to the one introduced by Mayor of London Boris Johnson.


2002: Thornhill Park-and-Ride is expanded to current size.

2009:Plans are originally put forward to expand Thornhill by 540 spaces, but a possible charge for commuters to London is put forward.

June 2010: Government cutbacks threaten project, but some urge the county council to proceed for the sake of city’s finances.

Sept 2010: Then-cabinet member for growth and infrastructure Ian Hudspeth puts forward to the county council a multi-million pound package of transport improvements which includes the expansion of Thornhill.

March 2011: County Council given permission to expand, but needs to find £3m.

April 2011: It is suggested Oxford University pays for the expansion as part of its £57m Old Road campus development.

July 2011:Government grant of £5m means the expansion can go ahead and paves way for the “Boris bike” hire scheme.