A section of the proposed East-West Expressway linking Oxford to Cambridge could be routed via Leighton Buzzard and result in massive housing growth in the area, while also creating a bypass for Wing in the process.
This evening (Tuesday), Aylesbury Vale District Council’s cabinet will meet to formulate its response to the Expressway plans where three route options have been put forward by the government’s National Infrastructure Commission for the “missing link” M40-M1 stretch.
The Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge region has been identified as one of the most significant growth corridors in the country, however the Commission has warned that, without urgent action, poor east-west connectivity and a chronic under supply of homes could jeopardise growth, limit access to labour and put prosperity at risk.
It says East West Rail and the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to unlock land for new settlements.
The Expressway would involve the conversion of sections of the A34, A421, A428 and A1 but for the “missing link” between Oxford and Milton Keynes the three shortlisted options are:
> Option A goes via Thame, Aylesbury and Leighton Buzzard, with junctions at Leighton Buzzard and Rowsham. From Leighton it would potentially run in two directions – aligned to the Stoke Hammond bypass towards Milton Keynes and the M1, and also the A505 and A5 towards the new M1 J11a.
> Option B follows the line of the East West Rail.
> Option C follows the A421 from Bicester to Milton Keynes via Buckingham.
The Goverment intends to have a preferred corridor chosen by the summer, with the precise detailed route then nailed down by autumn 2020.
A recent Department for Transport appraisal saw the £3,452 million, 40-mile Option A come out on top. Bucks County Council has also come down in favour of that choice.
Aylesbury Vale councillors who attended two council seminars on the Expressway have shown some support for Options A and B, but there was no overall consensus.
Some pointed out that Option A would deliver a dual carriageway bypass for Aylesbury and Wing and had potential for delivering new homes at Leighton Buzzard, Aylesbury, Cheddington and Haddenham.
But they also felt the road could increase local congestion as it would attract more development; there was insufficient capacity for growth; the route was constrained by current committed development and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Green Belt; there was little or no benefit to Aylesbury Vale; and would also require upgrades of Cheddington and Leighton Buzzard railway stations.
Councillors felt Option B would deliver the fastest road, significant housing and economic growth potential, would offer road and rail in one corridor and there would be less environmental constraints.
But some also felt the route was not a sustainable location for housing growth and the road network was not suitable. It was also pointed out this option had an adverse environmental impact on rural area as development would be on greenfield sites.
The government timetable has construction of the Expressway due to start in 2025, ready for a 2030 opening, but AVDC has concerns that the timescales are too ambitious.
District councillor Netta Glover (Conservative, Wing) has warned that Option A would be funded by “enormous” housing growth.
She said: “Any housing accompanying the Expressway will be big. No infilling would raise enough money for the required partial funding.
“On the face of it Option A appears to benefit Wing. However, not everyone will be pleased with the housing growth that is likely to come with it. Option A will require substantial funding to be gained through the enormous housing growth it will require.
“How will Wing residents feel when they see proposals coming forward to double its size for instance?
“A quick look at the route makes me fear that Wing will be the most likely area to bear the brunt of the housing. Other villages along the route will also be affected, and Leighton Buzzard.
“So we really are in a cleft stick here. It will be great for the notorious A418 to be bypassed but the quid quo pro could be that we are stuck with all that housing which would change the nature of our historic village.”
Cllr Glover said there were many reasons to support Option B, but it did not not offer the same opportunities for housing growth meaning it wouldn’t raise enough funding.
She speculated that the Secretary of State could be tempted to choose Option C because it aligned with East West Rail and was the shortest route to connect the M1 with the M40.
She said: “If this route does get chosen there will still be benefits for Wing because it is likely to take a lot of heavy traffic away from the A418 which is used by HGVs as they leave the M1. It would also make villages like Aston Abbotts and Weedon less attractive to rat running than it is at the moment.
“It is all speculation at the moment because there are several stages to go through before the Secretary of State makes the final decision.”
Wingrave’s district councillor Peter Cooper (Independent) has stated his group’s support for Option B as it runs parallel to East West Rail and “puts future development where we want it”.
He said: “All the indications are that Route A is the favourite, Bucks County Council are supporting that too.
“It looks like there is a disconnect from the Department for Transport and those organising the Oxford to Cambridge Arc.
“The DfT are only thinking about the road, not what it connects together.”
He said that the AVDC Local Plan made provision for 28,000 extra homes to 2033, and predicted the Expressway would at least double those numbers.
He said development in villages would be inevitable, adding: “There’s no doubt an upgraded A418 would be a benefit, it would be an entirely new road running parallel to the current road which would be left as a country road.
“Aylesbury Vale will become a building site for as long as we are likely to live. Wherever the road goes it will generate housing. The corridors are so wide it’s not possible to know where it goes exactly. They are corridors not routes at the moment.”
The Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust says each of the three proposed routes has the potential to have devastating impacts on the natural environment and nationally-important wildlife.
It says it is now scrutinising the information available before submitting its opinions to Highways England very soon.
Tom Beckett, the Wildlife Trust’s Director of External Affairs, said: “Three proposed routes have been published; but arrows on a schematic map do not show which village greens, meadows, woodlands and rivers will be impacted by a new dual- carriageway with all its associated access roads, roundabouts and bridges.”