Bucks Councils refuse to sign Ox-Cambs Expressway non-disclosure agreement

The preferred corridor for the new Oxford to Cambridge expressway
The preferred corridor for the new Oxford to Cambridge expressway

Aylesbury Vale District Council and Buckinghamshire County Council has stood up for the rights of residents, by refusing to sign non-disclosure agreements on the Oxford Cambridge Expressway.

Council's were invited to view plans for the new road, but were asked by Highways England to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) which means that they would not be free to discuss the plan with residents.

Oxfordshire County Council, South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils agreed the gagging orders with Highways England.

They said the deals do not prevent them commenting on proposals for the road.

Martin Tett, leader of Buckinghamshire County Council said they refused to sign the agreement because of transparency to local residents.

He said: “We were indeed asked to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement by Highways England but refused to do so.

"The NDA would have allowed Buckinghamshire County Council early sight of the proposed route for the Expressway but we would not have been allowed to discuss this with either our wider membership or our residents. We might also have found it much more difficult to challenge the route if we decided to do so.

Buckinghamshire County Council completely understands that we need to improve our local and regional road networks, including the A41, A421 and the A34 and A43.

"However, we remain unconvinced that a new high speed semi-motorway through the middle of north Bucks is the right solution. We are arguing for improving local roads so that local people can directly see the benefits. "

Likewise Aylesbury Vale District council refused to sign the agreements, for similar reasons.

Cllr Angela Macpherson, Leader AVDC said:

"AVDC declined to sign a non-disclosure agreement with Highways England as we believe that information on major infrastructure projects such as this should be shared and debated fully in public at the earliest opportunity.

"We were not comfortable about a small number of officers and councillors knowing information that they were unable to share with other members and their electorate.

"As a consequence we have no more information than is currently in the public domain.

"Later this year we are expecting Highways England to publish a number of route options in the identified Expressway Corridor.

"These options will need to be fully considered and properly debated by the council in due course.

"At present the proposed road causes great concern as there is little evidence to suggest it will deliver any benefit for our communities and could cause serious impact to our environment. We would want to evaluate very closely the potential impacts of this scheme.

"Highways England will also carry out a public engagement exercise - and we would encourage people to participate and give Highways England the benefit of their opinion.

"Having reflected on the comments made we are then expecting Highways England to publish a recommended route in 2020. This will again be subject to formal public consultation, followed by a Public Examination before a final decision is made by the Government. The council will again fully participate in this process to represent and safeguard local interests.

"This process could take ​place over a number of years and so it will be important to work closely with other councils, particularly Bucks County Council, to ensure that a consistent position is maintained as we move towards the establishment of the new Buckinghamshire Council next year."

Highways England spokesperson said they fully respect an organisation’s choice not to enter into such discussions and but will continue to work closely with both AVDC and BCC.

They said: “Better connecting Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge will help ensure the continued success of the 'brain belt', bringing clear benefits to the region and the country as a whole.

“When we are developing major improvements like the ones we are proposing for this corridor, it is really useful to be able to speak with other organisations.

"It allows us to identify, develop and test potential viable route options and make sure that that options we end up putting forward for public consultation are the best ones."

“We are committed to a full public consultation later this year so people can help shape this once in a generation opportunity to transform transport links between our region’s major cities and the huge benefits it would bring.”