Roads, rail and housing
You might have noticed that Oxfordshire was almost gridlocked in November as multiple roadworks took their toll (no pun intended). Finders Keepers sought out an expert, Mr Peter Headicar, a Reader in Transport Planning at Brookes University, to explain the present and future of our county’s transport.
FK: It is surprising just how few car passengers come into Oxford. Mr Headicar: Yes, it is only around 15%. There’s a lot of migration into Oxford, and there are only so many zones of employment. Common sense would say you might be able to find somebody who is going to a similar area of Oxford (for example, the Science or BusinessParks) to car share. You would think that the cost would be itself enough to encourage people to do it, but it obviously manifestly isn’t.
FK: Is part of the solution to have a London-type congestion charge? Mr Headicar: Yes. The point is you’ve got to somehow ration space. At the moment, you ration it by congestion. My view would be that you’ve got to have some sort of combination of charging systems with that money earmarked to go back into providing for improvements of one kind or another. If you did have the funding, if you got the charging principle, then of course you can get investors with that revenue stream ‘guaranteed’. It’s what they do in London, because they’ve got their guaranteed revenue stream, and therefore they can put investments in and pay back through the revenues they get back.
FK: Why hasn’t this been done already? Mr Headicar: The County Council is Conservative controlled, and all the members represent areas outside the city. If OxfordCity was its own transport authority, as some other unitary councils are, like Bristol for example, I’m sure you’d have had a different set of policies introduced. It’s like the school holidays. If you take 10% or 20% off the road, it dramatically makes things different. The question is: how do you do it? How do you do it in particular if you’ve not got something better to offer people?
FK: In November we had ‘Carmageddon’, with multiple simultaneous road works. What can we expect in terms of improvements, say in the next 3 to 5 years? Mr Headicar: They’re proposing to do the Wolvercote and Cutteslowe roundabouts, just in the immediate vicinity of Oxford. Anything else is going to be longer term. There’s nothing else on the horizon. Indeed, as far as Oxford city goes, there’s a limit. Continuing to widen roundabouts on the Ring Road only takes you so far. The trouble is, activity within the city is likely to continue to grow and you’ve got finite capacity. You’ve got an equation that can’t be resolved without taking a more strategic view.
FK: You are in favour of more journeys by local rail? Mr Headicar: There are opportunities to make more intense use of those lines, more stations, particularly if they’re linked with developments as well. I like trams, but I’m not sure that’s the right way forward for Oxfordshire, partly because we’re now no longer dealing with the 1970s situation of a city in the middle of a rural area. We’ve now got a city region. Places like Bristol, Didcot, and Harwell, which are significant generators of travel in their own right, and there are people moving between all of these places.
FK: Who should be taking that strategic leadership? Mr Headicar: The County Council has the most obvious responsibility, but you’ve also got the Department of Transport and Network Rail. You’ve got the private rail operators and the bus companies. All of them in some way have got aspirations which could be brought together in what we’ve just been talking about. But there are an awful lot of parties and to bring them together might not be the solution. It’s like Chiltern Railways with the Oxford to Cowley branch. Yes, it’s not a bad idea, but it’s not necessarily the best idea. Do you go along with it simply Oxfordshire generally, and long-distance A40 traffic. The Northern Gateway is being developed in the way it is because it happens to be the last bit of land that’s been in Oxford city.
FK: Should we expect the traffic to get worse before it gets better? Mr Headicar: I’m not sure it will get better, I’m afraid. You’re obviously an optimist. I think there is this fundamental problem that we like to be in our cars. But we don’t want to be like Los Angeles, as far as the development and road schemes and everything goes. The issue is that you can’t do both. Already things have changed within Oxford city. Car use is actually going down in Oxford city, because car commuting is going down in Oxford city. Whether the rest of the county and even the rest of the country will eventually follow suit remains to be seen. because it’s an opportunity that’s there, and it’s better than nothing?
FK: What effect will the Water Eaton to London train have on traffic? Mr Headicar: There’s an overall gain, but probably a bit of a local loss, in terms of traffic. The North Oxford Golf Club is prime development land right by the railway station. It would make all sorts of sense to sell it, except that people like to have a mile of golf course between north Oxford and Kidlington
. FK: You have said that the Northern Gateway traffic modelling shows that the Wolvercote roundabout traffic will increase by 60% by 2030. Mr Headicar: The Gateway development itself only accounts for 30% of that. The other 30% is national forecasts for socalled “background growth.” You’ve got continued growth in population within