Councils outline proposals for Connecting Oxford to tackle city traffic congestion
Plans to reduce congestion on routes into Oxford, improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions took a big step forward on 21 January 2020 after councillors gave the go ahead for a full feasibility study.
The Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford City Council cabinet decisions to proceed with the Connecting Oxford transport proposals were informed by more than 3,000 responses to the autumn 2019 engagement exercise on proposals for new bus gates across Oxford and a workplace parking levy (WPL) in the city’s Eastern Arc - an area outside the city centre that links parts of north Oxford, Marston, Headington and Cowley.
The goal of the two councils with Connecting Oxford is to make a real improvement to journey times for commuters, other travellers and quality of life for residents and visitors, including improved air quality, by reducing the number of cars travelling into and around the city and encouraging more people to travel by public transport, walking and cycling. More active travel by cycling and walking will also have added health benefits for citizens. Proposals will also significantly reduce carbon emissions from transport, which accounts for 17% of annual greenhouse gas emissions in Oxford.
The detailed design and appraisal of the proposals will take into account feedback raised during the recent engagement exercise held in autumn 2019. Over 3,000 views were submitted on proposals from the public and variety of stakeholders including businesses, employers, parish councils and community groups. The survey revealed significant support for change in transport in Oxford, including backing from Oxford University and the NHS as large employers in the area. Funding for this stage of work, estimated to be £1.602 million has been secured.
The proposals for Connecting Oxford aim to create a series of benefits to residents, businesses and employees including a better public transport and a walking and cycling network that is continuous and high-quality. This includes a key new bus service linking employment sites in the eastern area to other parts of the city, county towns and Park & Ride. This will be enabled by revenue from the WPL and the service will run every 12 minutes through the day. Reduced traffic would also mean bus journeys in and around the city are quicker, more reliable and enable more road space for wider cycle lanes and public realm.
Severe traffic congestion is having a negative impact on existing bus services. Oxford Bus Company has confirmed bus speeds in the centre of Oxford are 38% slower than in 2006, and so to ensure the timetable is met it has to put around one third more buses on the road. This, together with falling passenger numbers as a result of the slower journey times, has hit profitability, which is down by two-thirds. If not addressed, this unsustainable trend could see further impact on less profitable city and rural services.
The key points of the proposals are:
- Three new bus gates are proposed at Worcester Street, Thames Street and St Cross Road/South Parks Road to reduce the number of motor vehicle trips which pass through the city centre
- In the Eastern Arc of Oxford, two new bus gates on Marston Ferry Road and Hollow Way are proposed to cut traffic on the B4495.
- A Workplace Parking Levy (WPL) is proposed across Oxford’s Eastern Arc, an area that covers north, east and south-east Oxford inside the ring road
- Those affected by the WPL, including employers and their employees, would directly benefit from grants for onsite sustainable travel improvements and parking management and discounts on bus fares, park & ride buses and parking and discounts on bike purchases
There will also be a significant and rapid expansion of Controlled Parking Zones (CPZ) across Oxford, including nine new CPZ schemes that the county council has already approved for formal consultation. In addition to the traffic measures in the city, other traffic management schemes, including ‘low traffic neighbourhoods’, might be required to ensure traffic is not displaced and residential roads are not used to circumvent restrictions.
A Workplace Parking Levy (WPL) will be an annual charge paid by employers for each parking space they provide, on or off-site, that is used for employee (commuter) car parking. Operational parking is exempt from a WPL as are fleet, visitor and customer car parking spaces. The revenue will also provide a locally controlled source of funding to be used for new and improved bus services as well as funding for additional Park & Ride capacity and better walking and cycling routes.
Several individuals and organisations, including some large employers, expressed support for alternative options, including a congestion charge or expansion of the WPL area. Alternative options will be considered as part of the feasibility study at the next stage as required as part of the DfT business case process.
Plans to go ahead with the steps included in the study will be open to further participation by the public, business, employers and other city organisations to address concerns and technical details. This includes the creation of the ‘Connecting Oxford Partnership’, involving a number of employers within the proposed WPL zone, to help shape the proposals. Further engagement will also be conducted with those affected by traffic restrictions, including residents and community groups, smaller employers and businesses. This will include face to face meetings and other forms of engagement.
Now that county and city council cabinets have endorsed proposals for the development of Connecting Oxford, further stakeholder engagement will be carried during the rest of 2020; with the next public consultation expected to take place in winter 2020/21.
Cllr Yvonne Constance, Oxfordshire County Council Cabinet Member for Environment said:
“The recent public survey on the concepts of Connecting Oxford underlined a widespread understanding that doing nothing to address traffic congestion in the city is no longer an option. More than 60% of all journeys into Oxford are currently by car despite the fact that average car and bus speeds into the city are slowing. The Oxford Bus Company says that bus speeds in the centre of Oxford are now 38% slower than in 2006 and they have had to increase the number of buses on the road by around a third to meet their timetables. Without action, car-dependency is likely to continue as more jobs are created. We will work closely with employers, commuters and residents to develop travel options across the city that allow for efficient movement to work, school and for leisure that have the minimum impact on the environment.”
Cllr Alex Hollingsworth, Oxford City Council Cabinet Member for Planning and Sustainable Transport said:
“At a time when both the City and County Councils have formally recognised the climate emergency, we need to take decisive action to reduce the impacts of car traffic on Oxford and Oxfordshire. Those impacts are much more than air pollution, serious though that is. That’s why we need to drastically lower the number of vehicles as well as making sure that those that remain are as clean and green as possible. Cutting car traffic will allow buses to run more efficiently, and free up space for safe and secure routes for cyclists and pedestrians. Cities all across the world are leaving behind the era when private cars were the dominant form of transport; Oxford needs to do the same.”
Connecting Oxford is part of a wider local transport plan which aims to improve connectivity, reduce emissions and support sustainable growth across Oxford and Oxfordshire. Over the past year, both councils consulted on their Zero Emission Zone proposals to tackle vehicle air pollution and improve public transport connections into and across Oxford. Together the two schemes aim to create zero emission transport system across Oxford and Oxfordshire.
An engagement exercise to get feedback from the public and stakeholders on the Connecting Oxford proposals was held in late 2019. Over 3,000 responses were received in total; 2932 responded via an online survey (95% of which responded in a personal capacity with the remainder (5%) responding on behalf of a business, employer or other organisation). Respondents included employers comprising businesses and other organisations, as well as parish councils and community interest groups.
In summary, the feedback confirms there is recognition that doing nothing is not an option. Overall, only a minority of online survey respondents – both among the public (25%) and stakeholders (32%) – believed the proposed WPL would make journeys worse. Feedback on the proposed bus gates was more balanced, with a minority of the public (42%) responding that these would make their journey worse, while a small majority of stakeholders (53%) believed their journeys would be worse.
Several individuals and stakeholders indicated that proposals should go further – including extending the current proposed WPL zone to other parts of the city - or requested further justification for not extending the current proposed WPL zone to other parts of the city.
What happens next?
The timetable below outlines the development of a detailed scheme and Department for Transport compliant business case will now be undertaken between January/February 2020 and Autumn 2021, with the scheme designed and assessed to ensure any adverse impacts are mitigated.
Further consultation and engagement will be undertaken as part of the next phase of work. This includes the creation of the ‘Connecting Oxford Partnership’ to help shape proposals and involving employers and businesses affected by the WPL, including those representing health and education sectors and the private sector. The Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and other Oxfordshire district councils will also need to be involved.
There will continue to be a regular flow of communications through media and social media countywide to ensure high levels of public awareness over the proposals.
January 2020 – county and city councils Cabinets to decide how to proceed with developing Connecting Oxford.
January-October 2020 – develop more detailed proposals and continue discussions with stakeholders.
Winter 2020/21 - formal consultation on a detailed proposal.
May/June 2021 - possible Public Inquiry.
Autumn 2021 - request for Department for Transport approval (as required).
For more information contact:
Oxfordshire County Council
01865 323 870
Oxford City Council