Chris Howells, Chair of Bicester Branch, Banbury and Bicester CLP
Chris Howells, Chair of Bicester Branch, Banbury and Bicester CLP

If the last 12 to 18 months has taught us anything – other than the dangers of the pandemic caused by the COVID19 virus and how slowly Government responded – it is that less traffic and a focus on more walking and cycling delivers health benefits. But the return to ‘normal’ shows just how much poorly planned development adversely impacts Bicester and the surrounding areas. It’s a theme I’ve picked up before but the difference between life during the pandemic and life as it gears up to full throttle once more brings it into sharp relief.

The increase in traffic is evident and, as I’ve said before, the so-called ring road is clearly unfit for purpose. Some improvements are visible with the bridge over the East-West railway on Charbridge Lane under way and due for completion next year. But the rest of the ring road – Skimmingdish Lane, Lords Lane and Howes Lane – will become more congested, with 6000 houses planned for the North West Bicester eco-town. And access to the Town Centre will see even more traffic on  Middleton Road, Bucknell Road and Banbury Road.

This risks repeating the mistakes of a huge planning failure, obvious for years – London Road crossing, the biggest problem for accessing the Town Centre from Langford and the East. Yes, its possible to use the A41 to the roundabout on the Oxford Road and drive into the Town Centre from the South, but the volume of through traffic is so great that congestion and pollution on Queens Avenue, Field Street and the Banbury and Buckingham Roads is already increasing.  It will only get worse as the London Road crossing closes for 30-40 minutes per hour once East-West and Oxford-London rail traffic increases.

The Charbridge Lane overpass provides another option, for Langford residents and traffic from the East to use the ring road and Launton Road to access the Town Centre. Again, not a great solution given the local traffic on that road already accessing Lidl, Aldi, Wickes, Homebase and the industrial estates. And it’s possible to envisage even more traffic heading through Launton village from the A41 than does currently. Not a good outcome!

Returning to London Road crossing, it’s clear that a tunnel under the railway is not feasible. Quite apart from the disruption and cost of construction, the need to manage flood risk within the tunnel would be very expensive both in installing and maintaining the necessary pumping system. A road overbridge for vehicles at that point would be problematic too. given the constricted nature of the site, limited space for ramps especially on the Town Centre side, and the inevitable disruption to rail traffic during the construction phase.

A green option on London Road would be a bridge suitable for pedestrians and cyclists only, given we are all being encouraged and enabled to cycle and walk more. It would be a lighter construction than a road bridge and less disruptive to rail traffic during construction. For local road traffic from Langford, the Local Plan adopted by the Labour administration running Cherwell District Council in the mid-1990s proposed a road bridge over the railway at the end of Gavray Drive joining up with Launton Road north of Garth Park. Later removed from the Local Plan under the Conservative Council, it may yet provide a better, less costly and disruptive solution, notwithstanding the need to acquire what is relatively new housing. After all, it isn’t as if there isn’t more housing planned for Bicester, however poorly!

First published as a Bicester Advertiser column from Chris Howells, Chair of Bicester Branch, Banbury and Bicester Constituency Labour Party

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