THE bust A40 has become a key battleground for those looking to represent the area following next month's General Election.

Conservative candidate Robert Courts has launched a petition, encouraging residents across the district to back it and show Government a strong desire for a solution to the regularly clogged road.

But this approach has been attacked by his opponents as weak and 'mealy-mouthed', who have put forward their own solutions to the heavily congested road that links Witney to Oxford.

The A40 is used by up to 30,000 vehicles every day and is often at a standstill during peak times as commuters head to and from work in Oxford.

Oxfordshire County Council’s proposals for the road involve creating a park and ride in Eynsham, with longer term plans to add extra lanes to the key route between Witney and Eynsham. Campaigners, however, have insisted that it is simply not enough, with suggestions a more radical solution like a rail link are required.

Candidate have leapt on the issue in the run up to the General Election on June 8.

Mr Courts, who launched his petition last week, said: “If people honour me with their trust again, I want to be in the position in the first few weeks of Parliament to present a petition which makes clear – in no uncertain terms – the strength of feeling on the issue from every person in West Oxfordshire.”

But rival candidates have been quick to criticise the approach.

Labour’s Laetisia Carter, who said she would explore a light rail link if elected, said: “I’m concerned that, with both local and national Conservative Governments on his side, Mr Courts is struggling to secure an answer to the A40.

“That he has had to resort to starting a petition is a worrying indication of his lack of power within his own party and raises questions over his ability to solve this fundamental issue.”

The Green Party candidate Claire Lasko, who also supports a rail link, attacked Mr Courts too, saying he had a lack of ideas when it came to solving the problem.

She added: “Mr Court’s mealy-mouthed petition - to be presented only if he is returned to Parliament - is opportunistic blackmail and likely to undermine cross-party co-operation.

“It does not even mention the railway that the Greens and many, many voters see as by far the best way to bring permanent prosperity to West Oxfordshire.”

Liberal Democrat candidate Liz Leffman said innovative transport links like a train or tram were not likely under a Conservative government.

She said: “Fixing the A40 is, of course, necessary given the current level of traffic. But any work on the A40 will also need to take account if the huge number of houses planned for the area.

“If the proposed Garden Village near Eynsham goes ahead, then no amount of money will solve the traffic problem. What we need is new thinking about how we create innovative transport solutions such as a train or tram line between Witney and Oxford. Sadly, this is unlikely to come from the Conservatives, who have cut local bus services.”

Alan Craig, of UKIP, offered a solution quite different to most of the other candidates.

He said: “The answer is twofold: first remove the A34 traffic from the A40 somewhere around Eynsham, peeling the traffic off to a new intersection on the A34 north and south.

“It may well be that by removing non-Oxford traffic, congestion is dramatically reduced.

“I believe that this could well work. Yes it will cost money, but it is a major problem and needs radical solution.”

Responding to criticism of his petition, Mr Courts said: “In order to be effective in Parliament, it is necessary to build an argument, so that the Government can clearly see the real need for action on an issue in your area. Every signature on a petition is direct evidence of the strength of feeling on an issue - and there is enormous strength of feeling about the A40 in West Oxfordshire.”

Chairman of Witney Oxford Transport Group Maurizio Fantato said it was encouraging to hear the candidates bringing the issue to the forefront.

He said: “We are pleased to see there is overall agreement about the urgency behind this issue. It is particularly gratifying that so far at least three of the candidates make a point about an alternative rail link, something which even Oxfordshire County Council had contemplated in the Mott MacDonald report of 2001.

“Mr Courts's predecessor used his maiden speech in the House of Commons, in June 2001, to lend his support to the reopening of the railway line too. But still we wait for action.”