Feelings are running high in villages “blighted” by a lack of news on a proposed fast new road that is due to link Oxford to Cambridge via Milton Keynes, a councillor says.
The range of options for the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway have yet to be announced by Whitehall but the plan is to “broadly align” it with the East-West Rail track, which takes it through the ward of councillor David Hopkins.
“160 people went to a meeting at Wavendon Village Hall on Monday to talk about the expressway,” said Cllr Hopkins (Cons, Danesborough & Walton) at a meeting on Tuesday.
“Feelings are running high. The lack of a decision is blighting lives and it is having a real impact on people who are waiting for something to come from the Government and the Highways Agency. It is a difficult position for people to be in.”
Cllr Hopkins challenged MK Council’s transport and planning supremo, Cllr Martin Gowans (Lab, Bletchley East), to change the council’s policy from one of conditional support to opposition.
Other councils in the region, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, have already come out in opposition to the expressway, he said.
Cllr Gowans said that the council’s set of conditions for support from Milton Keynes has been set to high that he thinks the Highways Agency is unlikely to be able to meet them.
The council wants to see the East West Rail route opened and electrified before it gives wholehearted support. There are also a set of environmental conditions it wants to see met first, Cllr Gowans said.
Cllr Hopkins was concerned that a council policy document, called the Transport Infrastructure Delivery Plan, did not make the council’s position clear.
“I hope that the council has the same policy as the leader and the Cabinet member,” he said.
The policy document contains references to the route which suggests that the “benefits of the proposed Expressway can be maximised for local residents and businesses.”
It also refers to the road, and the railway, as substantially enhancing “east-west connectivity across the (Oxford to Cambridge) arc, providing new opportunities for people to live and work in Milton Keynes.
“The transport challenge is to maximise the benefits of these strategic schemes for inclusive and sustainable growth in Milton Keynes.”
Speaking at the Delegated Decisions meeting on Tuesday (October 29) James Povey, the council’s strategic lead for transport policy and planning, said the document was a “high level” strategic look at what could happen and did not imply support.
MK Council has entered into a controversial Non Discloure Agreement with the Highways Agency so that its officers can talk to the Government about various options and influence decisions behind the scenes.
Cllr Gowans said: “It is not very likely that they will be able to reach the bar we have set.”
He added that he sympathised with residents over the issue. “If I lived in Woburn Sands or Wavendon I would be worried too,” he said.
And another Cabinet member, Cllr Emily Darlington (Lab, also Bletchley East) spoke to reassure Cllr Hopkins.
“The whole Cabinet is behind our policy decision and we have taken the opportunity to make the point to ministers,” she said.
Cllr Gowans approved the Transport Infrastructure Delivery Plan, which sets out a range of policy priorities on roads and buses.
After the meeting a spokesperson for the Highways Agency said: “We are continuing to work collaboratively on the expressway with all stakeholders in the wider Oxford Cambridge arc.
“The project is currently going through its governance process and once this is complete we will be able to share a more detailed timeline. We will continue to engage closely with our stakeholders as we plan out the detail of the consultation and provide them with an update on timing as soon as details are confirmed.”