Matt Oliver’s article in last Monday’s Oxford Mail is hugely significant, because it highlights so many threads coming together.
It has been assessed that the county needs around 100,000 new homes by 2031, many for commuters working in the city region. The new Westgate Centre opens this autumn, and its success depends on attracting several million additional visitors each year.
So demand for travel will increase. Past solutions of more and bigger roads are unacceptable – people are going to have to get out of their cars. But the bus services are at near-saturation at peak times, and buses are hugely damaging to the city’s historic environment.
Chiltern Railways’ connection into Oxford Central Station demonstrates the potential for an Oxford Metro. The journey from Bicester to Oxford city centre on the new service takes only around 14 minutes, for a return fare of as little as £3.10. A demonstration train to Cowley did indeed run in 2014 – two temporary stations were built and the feasibility of a Cowley-to-the-city-centre service was obvious.
But a north-south ‘Spine Line’, running in the existing rail corridor from North Kidlington to Milton Park, also offers huge potential. These are projects which could be done NOW.
Building an Oxford Metro means recognising that public transport is the ‘skeleton’ on which all development should be planned. Both current Oxfordshire re-organisation proposals talk of integrated strategic planning, so we are getting there.
The biggest argument against such a system is cost. But with the enormous increase in land values when agricultural sites are scheduled for development, there should be hundreds of millions of pounds which could be tapped. Currently this land-value uplift simply benefits the landowner, but this may change soon.
So, the pieces are in place; do we have the leadership to deliver?