Standing Up for Local Communities
The petition against the closure of the A417 (with over 1000 signatures) was presented to Oxfordshire County Council at a packed public meeting on 22nd July. A very constructive discussion followed.
In particular, some important new details came to light:
– a second road bridge at Challow would cost £1.4m more than the closure solution, for which Network Rail does not have funding sanctioned by its regulator. To challenge this we need to address the Office of Rail Regulation who set NR’s budget;
– NR recognised the additional burden in terms of petrol costs (in particular) being placed on local people’s shoulders (a figure of £7m was suggested). Again they suggested we take this up with ORR or national politicians who have decided that the works should go ahead and not agreed funding for a suitable compensation package;
– NR would not have agreed to a new bridge at Grove if it had the information on cost and impact to programme it has now;
– cyclists will be able to cross the replacement pedestrian Challow bridge as well as pedestrians;
– there will be no other scheduled maintenance work by OCC on the diversion routes during the diversion (this does not mean utilities won’t be working);
– due to the sequencing of the works more manpower won’t speed up the programme, though they are considering increasing evening/weekend working if it is shown to save time. Closing the railway for longer is not an option.
– Road closure signs will have emergency Network Rail numbers to call in the event of a problem on one of the diversions.
– Diversionary routes (even the optional ones) will be gritted.
There were also two new ideas/offers:
– NR will pay for a bus to transport people from either side of the closure to the other side (to be reviewed if it is not utilised);
– the NR Director will meet residents and the Councillor for Kingston Lisle to drive the ‘optional’ diversionary one-way system and establish what improvements can be made to the scheme.
There remain some gaps in our understanding:
– Oxfordshire County Council did not give full responses on the provision to be made for school buses, and in particular SEN transport. We await more information from the school bus companies/OCC when plans are finalised for the new term;
– it was not clear when and why the Kingston Lisle and Denchworth ‘optional’ aspects of the diversion scheme would be brought into action. It just seems that OCC will make a call if the traffic in these areas gets ‘really bad’.
– a pledge from OCC to fill pot-holes and clear drainage ditches on diversion routes before the closure happens was offered in quite a half-hearted manner, suggesting that the amount of work considered necessary by residents may not be undertaken in time for the diversion.
Credit goes to Network Rail who brought the right people to answer the questions, including Robbie Burns, the regional Director and Faringdon resident, and a representative from Murphy (the contractor) to explain the technical detail of the bridge works.
One of the most important outcomes from the meeting was the realisation on the part of Network Rail that this was the sort of meeting that they should have proposed in the first place (and a long time ago). NR felt that the opportunity to set out their plans in detail and take questions was extremely valuable. They intend to adopt this approach to bridges further down the line. They appreciated the opportunity to engage with the public.
We hope that as a result of the petition and the turn-out at the meeting, Oxfordshire County Council feel the same, and that they will take the initiative to engage with the public in Steventon on their planned closure. It’s regrettable that the initial feedback from Councillors has not been positive with comments they made during and after the meeting attracting complaints and causing offence to meeting participants. These will be taken up directly.
Though this leaves a sour taste, I am determined to stay positive. Receipt of the petition has been acknowledged and we await a formal reponse from the Council. I will therefore close the petition, and send a final update once we have the that response.
Many thanks to everyone that supported the petition and the meeting. We may not have the solution we want, but I hope we have moved the discussion forward in a constructive way and gained some important insights and concessions.
If you have any further questions that you would like me to take up with OCC or NR on this issue, please don’t hesitate to email me on: firstname.lastname@example.org.