A public inquiry into plans for a £269million road scheme has reached its final stages.

Closing statements relating to the planning application for the Didcot and surrounding areas major infrastructure (HIF1) scheme were heard yesterday (April 23). 

Oxfordshire County Council has been planning the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF1) scheme for almost a decade. 

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The proposals included creating a dual carriageway on the A4130 from the A34 Milton Interchange towards Didcot, new bridges and a Clifton Hampden bypass.

Herald Series: A protest against the scheme in July 2023 A protest against the scheme in July 2023 (Image: Oxford Mail)In July 2023, Michael Gove called in the planning application after the county council's planning committee refused it - despite recommendations from officers that it should be approved.

The committee’s reasons for refusal were less about the principle of the scheme and more about its details.

They pointed to outdated traffic modelling data, which used figures from 2016/17, and questioned the detailed design of the proposed bridges.

Oxfordshire Roads Action Alliance (ORAA), six affected parish councils and the Planning Oxfordshire's Environment and Transport Sustainably (POETS)  expert group of planners is fighting the scheme which has divided opinion.

David Young, of POETS, said the proposed scheme would increase traffic and congestion over a wide area of southern Oxfordshire, much of it in the green belt, including Abingdon, Nuneham Courtenay and to the east across to the M40.

He said: "As yet, the county council has provided no adequate explanation as to how these impacts would be addressed, nor how any possible amelioration would be paid for. 

"Indeed, as even the current scheme appears to be not fully funded - even before any work starts - it could place the county council at serious financial risk.

“This is a very serious issue when all councils across England are facing huge financial pressures as a result of unprecedented cuts by central government.

"At a time when highway authorities cannot even repair potholes, there are huge contradictions in central government support for a massive £300 million road scheme – and indeed one which can only undermine the council’s own priorities on climate and the health and well-being of its citizens.”Herald Series: Chris Cousins, also of POETS, said he was most interested in the county council's admission that the proposed road will provide some relief from congestion for at most 10 years, after which it is likely to be worse. 

"Such a temporary and unsatisfactory 'fix' seems poor value for what's likely to be well over £330m of public money, when there are cheaper and more sustainable approaches available," he said.

The inquiry will still continue until May 10 and the inspector will hear evidence and statements on the compulsory purchase and side roads orders.

The inspector will then draft a report and present it to the Secretaries of State (for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and for Transport), who will make the final decision.

It can take between six – 12 months before a decision is announced.

Mr Gove has been urged to approve the multi-million pound road scheme by Didcot Town Council, which unanimously passed a motion calling Mr Gove to grant permission for the scheme, with improvements last August. 

Councillor Mocky Khan, who has always supported the plan, said the scheme will offset some of the 'neglect' Didcot has suffered.

He said: "Didcot and the surrounding areas are being developed and houses being built at a rapid pace without the necessary infrastructure which is affecting our business, communities and residents.

“HIF1 gives us access to £260million worth of infrastructure that is desperately needed to support the growth of new houses, allow better connectivity and improvements for residents, cyclist, buses and reduce congestion around our villages.

“I share the concerns of those that oppose HIF1 but I want to unlock future funding so infrastructure and amenities can be delivered.

“ For far too long, Didcot has been neglected, we get the houses without any of the benefits.

"I hope that the enquiry outcome is that HIF1 is allowed and we can move forwards."

Cllr David Rouane, who sits on Didcot Town Council and South Oxfordshire District Council, said there would be “incredible consequences for Didcot” if the scheme was refused.

The district council’s  five year land supply statement, which demonstrates it has enough land available to provide five years’ worth of housing, relies on HIF1.

Without the road scheme he claimed this could lead to ‘uncontrolled development’ on unallocated sites to meet the district council's housing targets.

“It is an independent process, and we have to trust the process that it will come out with the right decision," he said.