Monday, 14 June 2021

Congestion report held back ‘on purpose’

A REPORT on the effect of removing on-street parking in Watlington was held back deliberately, a parish councillor has claimed.

Tom Bindoff said the reason for the delay was that the study contradicted South Oxfordshire District Council’s claim that the move would improve traffic flow and air quality in the town centre.

The council suggested creating a “freight clearway” in its draft low emissions strategy despite opposition from Watlington Parish Council and residents who said it could increase the risk of accidents and mean there was too little parking space in the town.

The report by engineering firm AECOM, which was commissioned by Oxfordshire County Council, the highways authority, said that in the long term queues in the town centre would be made worse by removing the parking spaces in Couching Street and Shirburn Street.

Now the parish council is to ask Steve Harrod, who represents Watlington on the county council, why the document was not released last year.

Councillor Bindoff said it was available and signed off in February 2017 but was only put on the council’s website on March 2 this year.

“This was obviously extremely suspicious and certainly very upsetting for us,” he said.

He said the AECOM report “didn’t support the line Oxfordshire and the district council were taking last year, which was removing parking would solve our air quality problems”.

Cllr Bindoff said: “It actually got worse and if you extrapolate to 2033 it’s very much worse.”

The report said: “The removal of parking on Couching Street will result in short-term journey time benefits in both northbound and southbound directions.

“However, by 2033, while there will be some northbound benefits, southbound journey times will increase significantly.

“Queuing at the central pinch point will remain comparable with or without parking in the short term, although there will be a brief spike in the northbound direction with parking removed.

“By 2033 the removal of parking on Couching Street will result in major increases in queuing at the central pinch point in both directions.”

Council chairman Ian Hill said he believed the release of the report had been prompted by a Freedom of Information request.

Councillor Harrod said: “I’ve seen the questions. I don’t think there’s anything sinister involved.”

He said he had discussed the issue with officers and said the report wasn’t published in its entirety last spring as this “wasn’t deemed necessary”.

Cllr Harrod added: “A summary of the findings were provided to the parish council at the time. There’s was no question of delaying the publication, it simply hadn’t been released.

“It was decided to put the report out ahead of the hearing (on March 5) so we as a county were able to provide evidence around the traffic congestion issue. It wasn’t anything to do with parking.”

He said he had responded to the parish council.

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