Back to square one - major expansion of Frideswide Square put on hold because of train station revamp (From Herald Series)
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Back to square one - major expansion of Frideswide Square put on hold because of train station revamp
A MAJOR refurbishment of one of Oxford’s busiest junctions could be delayed for up to six years.
Work on Frideswide Square was due to take place over the next few months but now transport chiefs cannot guarantee that it will start before 2019 due to the revamp of Oxford Station.
The £3.7m project aims to help the traffic flow better through the bottleneck square and to make it a more attractive place for pedestrians.
County councillor Rodney Rose, cabinet member for transport, said work on the scheme would not take place until next year at the earliest – but could not guarantee it would be done before the station was finished.
He said: “We need to know what is going on up there and it would be a bit naive of us to start work without knowing that.
“Sorting out that square is absolutely important and I am not enjoying having to put it back but we would be damned if we had to dig it up again because of changes at the station.
“We won’t do anything until we have absolute certainty about the plans for the station.
“It is unlikely that we will have to wait six years for this to be done but if there is doubt as to what the final result of the station redevelopment will be then we might.”
Earlier this week Network Rail announced its £9bn five-year plan for the railways through Oxfordshire which includes redeveloping the station and building a third platform by 2019.
Moving the station to Oxpens has been floated in the past but Network Rail has now confirmed this will not happen.
Mr Rose said he wanted “certainty” on issues such as how cars and buses will access the station.
Network Rail expects to appoint a contractor for the station by early next month and have a masterplan in place by the summer which will set out the possible options for the site.
But work cannot begin until the plans announced this week have been approved by the Office of Rail Regulation in October.
Mr Rose said the Frideswide Square scheme was the one project which would have the biggest impact on traffic flow through Oxford.
He said: “It all depends on the timeline for the station. I would do it this afternoon if I could.”
Frank Webster, director of letting agent Finders Keepers, which is based in the square, said his reaction was twofold.
He said: “I can see the logic in postponing it, because I can think of other infrastructure projects which have been carried out without thinking of things like this.
“There is a lot going on in this area, and it’s important they get it together properly.
“However, it does seem a shame, because the whole of that west end approach to Oxford still looks very unwelcoming.”
The county council’s boulevard-style design for Frideswide Square will involve creating a large roundabout at the entrance of the station and two mini-roundabouts at the other end of the square in front of the Royal Oxford Hotel.
As part of the scheme a series of large public open spaces will be created at three sides of the square, which is named after Oxford’s patron saint.
Extensive planting will also take place in an attempt to make the square a more welcoming place for pedestrians.
But cyclists have been concerned about the fact the design does not include cycle lanes because the council is hoping to create a “shared space”.
Richard Mann, of cycling group Cyclox, said: “We have been worried about the proposals so hopefully this pause will give us the opportunity to reflect on how the make the square work for cyclists.
“Regardless of the future of the station is it important that we get Frideswide Square right because it is one of the busiest junctions in Oxford.”
A spokesman for Network Rail said: “We are spending a large amount of money on the line through Oxford and we have plans to improve Oxford Station as well.
“Obviously we will continue to talk to the county council as we each try to develop our plans.”
- March 2011: Calls for the removal of traffic lights in the square are made after they break down and traffic runs more smoothly.
- August 2011: A bid for Government cash of £5m for a more expensive scheme is thrown out by Whitehall.
- December 2011: New plans, with a smaller price tag of £3.7m are announced, using cheaper materials to make the saving.
- February 21, 2012: Cyclists hit out over both options for the square, saying they will both be dangerous.
- March 8, 2012: A boulevard-style scheme is announced as the preferred option for the square, and recommended to council.
- March 13, 2012: County council cabinet approves the plans for Frideswide Square which were scheduled to start in early 2013
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