Many motorists may be unmoved by warnings of Oxford coming to a standstill if the Northern Gateway scheme goes ahead. Some might say the reality is that Oxford is already pretty close to being at a standstill for parts of the working week.

That may be true enough, but Stagecoach’s Martin Sutton happens to believe not only that things could get worse, but that they very well might do, unless some serious thought is given to the massive development proposed north of the city.

The misery seen daily in rush hours could lengthen to most of the day, slowing journey times massively, particularly for those travelling between Oxford and Witney, he warns.

He conjures this nightmare vision in response to Oxford City Council’s Northern Gateway Area Action Plan, recently submitted to the Secretary of State, and soon to go before a planning inspector.
His unhappiness stems from the fact that this massive development  — creating hundreds of homes, a hotel and a business park — which will inevitably increase traffic levels, is moving ahead with insufficient thought given to its impact and no clear bus priority scheme yet in place.

The fact this development is bordered by the A40, A44 and A34 means the Northern Gateway is intricately bound with improving journey times between Oxford and Witney, creating a strategic link road west of the A34, new bus lanes and the expansion of the park-and-ride.

Pressing ahead with so many issues unresolved amounts to a massive
risk — something that will surely not be overlooked by planning inspector.

The city’s neighbouring councils have rather mischievously suggested that the city should be focusing on building more homes, rather than creating employment opportunities, on this 44-hectare site.
A city that wants to build thousands of homes in the Green Belt, and is expecting other districts to help Oxford meet its housing needs, should not be messing about with hotels and business parks, the argument goes.

Of course this is to ignore the simple fact that the reason Oxfordshire is now attracting so much Government money is that it has been identified as a city — at the heart of a corridor — set to see massive and prolonged economic growth: in other words homes are needed to match the jobs being created.

Once again it has fallen to the bus companies to rip away the veil to show that for all the bold ambition and promise of massive investment, key decisions about bus lanes and road networks are all up in the air.

Mistakes will not easily be put right. There is good reason to worry, at least for those who can bring themselves to accept that things could really be a lot worse.