Conservative County Councillors have called for an urgent investigation into the controversial decision to approve traffic filters in Oxford.
The Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green administration at Oxfordshire County Council approved the installation of divisive traffic filters in Oxford city centre last November. The decision will see Oxford carved up into six camera-enforced zones with car access through the filters restricted. City centre residents will be required to apply for a permit to drive through the filters but will only be able to do so up to 100 days a year. Residents living outside of the city will also need to apply for a permit but their access is even less, only being able to drive through the filters up to 25 days a year. Residents who do not comply with the restrictions will face a £70 fine.
This is a devastating move for city centre residents, residents living outside of the city who have family inside the city and commuters and is potentially ruinous for those with livelihoods inside the city, local tradespeople and city centre businesses.
The proposals were met with significant public opposition but left-wing administration pressed ahead approving the scheme at a cost of £6 million.
However, subsequent investigations by The Oxford Mail and The Times have called into question the genuineness of the public consultation.
Last week it was revealed that the Council failed to release the detailed impact of the filters on city centre traffic until after the public consultation had closed despite being in possession of it and then over the weekend a further expose in The Times revealed that the administration promised to approve the filters in return for electric bus funding eight months before the public consultation opened.
These are deeply troubling claims that, if proven to be true, could have significant ramifications for the Council.
The Leader of the Conservative Group, Councillor Eddie Reeves, together with the Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group, Councillor Donna Ford and Councillors Liam Walker and Ian Snowdon, Shadow Cabinet Leads for Highways and Transport and Development has written to Dr Martin Reeves, Chief Executive of Oxfordshire County Council, to request an urgent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the approval of the filters and for a fresh consultation to be run, this time accompanied with all the pertinent data.
A full copy of the letter can be downloaded below.
Councillor Reeves said: “Residents, business owners and community groups need answers, but it isn't looking good.
Either Oxfordshire County Council withheld key data from its consultation for good reason or the decision to approve controversial traffic restrictions was taken in bad faith.
If there was a valid reason for keeping data under wraps, the Cabinet report which formed the basis of the decision to approve the restrictions should have expressly referred to that non-disclosure. If there wasn't, the Council may not have complied with the Gunning Principles, which calls into question the very basis of the decision.
In either case, the Council has clearly lost the confidence of a great many residents across Oxford and the wider county.
The Council's new Chief Executive must now intervene as a matter of urgency to restore public trust in County Hall and the consultations it runs. That means re-running the bus gates consultation with all the data openly and honestly disclosed or explaining, for the avoidance of doubt, how the Council took its decision in good faith. As part of such reassurance, the Council must also explain to residents and Councillors what commitments it gave to the Government in March eight months before its decision.
If the decision to approve bus filters was taken in bad faith, an independent review of the decision-making process must be conducted and published in full so that members of the public know whether senior Councillors were implicated. At that stage, all bets are off as to whether the current Cabinet can continue in its current form.”