As you will have seen, the likely cost of the HIF2 A40 scheme is now judged to have exceeded the funding from Homes England because of the high level of inflation. The scheme has therefore been paused and will be reviewed.
I spoke at Cabinet in November to call for the review to be thorough and to retain those parts of the scheme which add most value. I followed up with a question to the cabinet member at the subsequent cabinet meeting to try to ensure that there was full consultation on any changes to the proposals.
It was predicable from the start (to everyone apart from the previous administration, seemingly) that the scheme would cost more than planned and that the benefits are difficult to be confident about. My predecessor as your County Councillor, Charles Mathew, and I were united in our position on the scheme.
It is likely that the review will report back to Cabinet by March 2023.
The building of the Park and Ride has been underway for a number of weeks. I took part in the formal ‘first digging’, given that the project is going ahead despite the scepticism of the Eynsham community. It was a good opportunity to meet with key stakeholders, including Stagecoach.
Botley West Solar Farm
I would not expect great involvement from the County Council on the unwelcome proposal of the Botley West Solar Farm. The County Council will likely be asked about highways issues and any potential flooding risk. West Oxfordshire District Council (alongside the other DCs involved; Vale of White Horse and Cherwell) will be a consultee, but the scheme will be assessed by central government rather than through the normal planning process due to its scale.
Oxford traffic filters
There continues to be lots of misinformation about the proposed traffic filters. As a reminder, everywhere that currently can be driven to will continue to be accessible by car, although we are keen that as many people use public transport or active travel as they can. The proposals are designed to make active travel safer and bus travel quicker; there is no “climate lockdown”.
Botley Road closure
Having told the County Council, bus companies and residents that Botley Road would be closed from January, National Rail has decided it’s not ready to commence the work and has withdrawn the closure. We await their latest plans. While it hasn’t been an impressive performance from National Rail to date, the ultimate aim will be to create a much-improved station with space for new services, including the link to Milton Keynes, and that will be good.
A40 bike lanes
Those of you who use bikes to get to Oxford will have noticed that the appalling chicane at Oxford North, on the south side of the A40, which was dangerous, inconvenient and entirely unnecessary, has now been removed. It should not have been built.
There is work going on to design a Local Cycling and Walking Plan (LCWIP) for Witney, the consultation for which is open. In addition, over the next few months, we will be putting together a plan for linking key villages and towns to each other and to Oxford, with Eynsham to form part of this network.
Reduced bus fares
For the first three months of this year (Jan-Mar), bus passengers can enjoy a £2 cap on bus fares. This cap is being paid for by a Government scheme and all fares with participating bus firms will cost a maximum of £2 per adult single fare. This includes services operated by the Oxford Bus Company and Thames Travel. Our services from Eynsham to Oxford and Witney are excellent and included in this scheme, so now they are cheaper as well.
A Lib Dem motion at Full Council in December condemning the practice of dumping sewage into waterways passed with near unanimity. Over the Christmas period, Thames Water released raw sewage six times into Oxfordshire rivers. This resulted in the annual cold-water swim at Port Meadow, just downstream from Cassington Sewage Treatment Works (STW), being cancelled.
The newly reopened South Leigh STW has already leaked into the Limbrook and the Back Lane/Evans Road sewer is malfunctioning again.
On this topic, a water summit in December looked at challenges facing water supply and demand in Oxfordshire.
Eysham, along with the rest of the Eynsham, Cassington and South Leigh district council ward, will be in the new Bicester and Woodstock parliamentary constituency. This will come into being at the next election, providing that happens after June this year. Until then, we remain within Witney, with Robert Courts as MP. The Lib Dems have chosen Charlie Maynard as parliamentary candidate for Witney for the next election, whenever it is.
The Boundary Commission is also looking at Oxfordshire County Council and exploring changes that would ensure that each division is roughly the same size, following the large expansion in the population of the county. This process will happen throughout the year, with public consultation as part of the process. At the moment, the County Council has determined that it will recommend the continuation of single member divisions and an increase in the number of seats to 69 (from 63). This got cross-party support and the next step is to sketch out possible new divisions.
The budget for 2023/24 is being finalised, to be approved in February. In common with all other councils, the County Council is facing the headwinds of high inflation. It has huge demands, particularly in the areas of Adult Social Care, Education (including SEND) and highways.
I wish you all a happy new year. As ever, please get in touch with any queries, issues or comments by email on Dan.firstname.lastname@example.org.