Council officers have signed a secrecy agreement with Highways England over the possible route of a new expressway road linking Oxford to Cambridge via Milton Keynes.
But councillors in the south of Milton Keynes who want to be able to scrutinise route options have been told that they will have to wait until the autumn before the details can be shared with them and the rest of the public.
One of the possible routes, the one that Milton Keynes Council has said it supports, would take the new Oxford to Cambridge Expressway through Alice Jenkins’ Danesborough and Walton ward.
It would follow the route of the Bletchley to Bedford railway line at Caldecotte, Bow Brickhill, and beyond to M1 junction 13 then to Cambridge.
Cllr Martin Gowans, the council’s Labour cabinet member for planning and transport, in response to a question from Cllr Jenkins (Cons), confirmed that the council has signed a non-disclosure agreement with the Highways Agency.
Speaking at the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday (July 9), Cllr Gowans said: “Milton Keynes Council has entered into a non disclosure agreement in April 2019 that has enabled Highways England to share details about potential routes through the borough.”
It gives council officers the chance to understand how the options might impact on Milton Keynes and to begin their own technical transport planning work in this area.
Cllr Gowans added: “I prefer these kind of discussions to be more transparent, but appreciate without signing we wouldn’t have had the information, which has been helpful in scoping out our own local transport study.”
Cllr Jenkins said neighbouring councils, including Buckinghamshire County Council and Aylesbury Vale District Council, have refused to sign Non
Disclosure Agreements with Highways England.
She said: “If such an agreement has been signed, how is the cabinet expecting members of this council to be able to properly scrutinise decisions if information relating to the expressway is not openly shared?
“Can all ward members and any other interested member be briefed fully please?”
But Cllr Gowans said that Highways England has committed to running a full public consultation on the proposed route in Autumn 2019.
In the meantime a handful of Milton Keynes Council are having early sight of route proposals, and are able to give their own feedback.
Cllr Gowans said the talks do not “in any way prejudice the council’s opportunity to respond to the consultation in a formal capacity in the autumn following full scrutiny by members of the council.
“Once Highways England announces its preferred route choices all Members will be briefed before the council responds to the consultation.”
Next Tuesday (July 16), Cllr Gowans is due to make a delegated decision to change the council’s position from “strongly supports” the Expressway in the East West Rail “corridor”.
The new policy would be to maintain the council’s support for the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway, but to make it conditional. They want to see any environmental impacts mitigated, and to include public transport and cycling improvements within the corridor.
They want to work closely with Highways England while out of the gaze of public or councillor scrutiny to “influence route and design options.”