September 2018 Newsletter from John Howell MP for Henley

Wherever you are in the constituency you have probably heard recent media reports on the proposed Oxford-Cambridge Expressway. For those communities near to potential routes I know that it has been on your minds for some time. The expressway is a major new road which will go across country to link Oxford and Cambridge via Milton Keynes. There are also calls for it to be extended to include Swindon at one end and the port of Ipswich at the other.

The proposed new road is part of a much bigger national infrastructure project being coordinated by local councils and Local Enterprise Partnerships in the different counties from Oxfordshire to Cambridgeshire under the umbrella of England’s Economic Heartland. Much of the preparatory work for this was completed by the National Infrastructure Commission. Transport, including East-West rail, is but one aspect of the overall project. The Chancellor has given his support for growth in this area with money earmarked in the last budget.

The recent media interest is as a result of the Minister announcing the ‘corridor’ within which the road will run. Until now three broad corridors had been identified. Narrowing this down is a step in the right direction. The corridor now selected is the one recommended by Highways England and will broadly follow the new East-West rail line, however details of the route within this broad corridor have yet to be determined. The next phase of work will include public consultation this.

I am pleased that the government has ruled out construction in the area of the Otmoor nature reserve in the north of this constituency but remain concerned that some areas of the Green Belt could still be at risk. Planning policy does not exclude road building in Green Belt areas but where there are alternatives we should use them. In the absence of alternative information to date I have taken the view that the route should utilise existing roads where possible. For example, this project could provide a much-needed opportunity to upgrade the A34. The accident record alone suggests that we have to do something about this road. I am also aware that congestion on the A34 puts pressure on villages which can be seen as an alternative route to avoid the jams. The project could also allow for improvements to the A420 – another road that needs attention. Improvements to the A420 would also take pressure off of the A34. The route of the new road around Oxford is a key issue and I would support taking it to the west which would enable the A34 to be addressed. We also need to look for measures to deter diversions through villages.

It is anticipated that the new road will be ready for 2030. This may seem a long way off but there is much work to do before construction starts. The public consultation is critical. It will draw out many of the local detailed issues that will help finalise the route and will also identify related issues that need to be addressed.

With an infrastructure project of this magnitude there will be campaign groups working across the area, some of local issues some on overarching issues. This is only to be expected and the views of all are an important part in the process. There is also much myth and speculation circulated which can cause unnecessary worry. I would like to think that all those with views on this project can work with the facts and avoid scaremongering. For my part I will seek to ensure that the voices of all who wish to raise a point are heard and that some are not drowned out by those who have greater means to get their voice heard. I have already met with a number of parish councils in potentially affected areas and will do so again with those likely to be affected in the announced corridor.

If you would like to know more about my work on behalf of the Government and the Constituency, please do look at my website which is regularly updated. The address is http://www.johnhowellmp.com. Further details of the work of Parliament is available on the parliament website at http://www.parliament.uk. As always, I am interested to hear constituent’s views on the proposals before the House. If you would like to share your thoughts on an issue with me you can email me at howelljm@parliament.uk or write to me at the House of Commons (House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA) or my constituency office (PO Box 84, Watlington, OX49 5XD).

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