We want active travel, not new roads

We want active travel, not new roads

By Chris Church

Chris is Co-Chair of the Oxfordshire Roads Action Alliance

Earlier in March the government announced a massive £200 million cut to the active travel budget in England. This two-thirds cut to investment in safer walking and cycling is a backward move that is in no-one’s interest. People travelling by foot and by bike reduce congestion on the roads. They also save 2.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year. 

Roads programme on hold

The government has also delayed its roads programme. Many schemes will not be taken forward before 2030, if at all. This follows on from the Welsh government’s decision to halt all its major new roads schemes. Most local authorities also plan to ditch or review major road projects due to rising costs, according to a County Councils Network (CCN) survey. Inflation is hitting budgets. Road construction costs have risen by up to 25%.

Putting what money is available into better road maintenance and fixing the potholes makes good sense.

So why not stop HIF1?

With all this in mind it is astonishing that Oxfordshire County Council is pushing ahead with plans to spend over £296 million on one new road scheme. The ‘HIF1’ scheme proposes a 9-mile road from the A34 at Milton through to the A415 near Clifton Hampden and the A4074 (the Oxford–Reading road). The scheme would affect all villages along its route. Five local parish councils oppose the plan, as do the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trusts (BBOWT), the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), and other groups.

How is the project funded?

Mock up of HIF1 viaduct and road bridge across Thames

The government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund is providing £240 million but the County Council will need to borrow a further £30 million, with heavy interest fees, paid for by our council taxes. The remaining £26 million will come from local funds that could be spent in better ways. The government funds have to be spent by March 2026 – any extra costs after this will also be borne by council funds.

Major road schemes often go well over budget. Department for Transport figures show that only 30% of road projects are able to keep to their budget (with a 9% or less overrun). The council could well run out of money for the project. It’s unsurprising that many councillors are concerned that this is being pushed through with little debate. Around £160 million – over half the budget – would go on a massive new bridge and viaduct connecting Appleford and Culham – hardly a major through-route.

Why build the road at all?

Poster opposing building HIF1

The council’s own figures shows that the road will do little for congestion. It is known that new roads generate increased traffic, and the County’s Local Transport Plan emphasises this. Construction of the proposed road will also generate 154,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide even before any car journeys are made. To put that into perspective, all of Oxfordshire County Council’s own activities generate just 13,000 tonnes annually.

The funding source for the road – from the Housing Infrastructure Fund – makes the County’s reasoning clear. It’s about new housing in places with weaker transport links. A more rational approach might be to build new homes nearer to jobs and good existing transport links. Creating new car-dependent settlements will only increase congestion.

The HIF1 road scheme is a major financial gamble by Oxfordshire County Council. It also undermines their own local transport plans and pollution targets, and tears a huge hole in their climate commitments.

The County should freeze this scheme now and reassess all road-building plans to ensure they are compatible with its own policies.


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