CAMPAIGNERS have called for improving West Oxfordshire's rail links to be a priority when a crucial planning document is reviewed.

Maurizio Fantato, chairman of the Witney Oxford Transport Working Group (WOT), wrote to West Oxfordshire District Council leader, James Mills, urging the council to 'incorporate rail focused transport' in revisions of the district's local plan.

The document was formally adopted in September and must be reviewed at least every five years, but WOT believes the council should start the process now.

He claims the initial local plan 'does not even mention rail', despite commuters' concerns with the congested A40, which is used by up to 30,000 cars every day.

While the delivery of public transport is not the district council's responsibility, the local plan identifies the sites the council believes are best suited to hold 15,950 new houses between 2011 and 2031 and accompanying infrastructure.

WOT believes improving rail links in the west of the county is essential to this and Mr Fantato said it must be addressed now.

The WOT letter reads: "I am writing to request the District Council brings forward its review, with the goal of shaping an even better future for the people and place we all love.

"Many people in our district recognize the need for a rail line as part of a joined up approach to local transport, which is our own specialist area.

"The time, therefore, is right to take that particular discussion further, ensuring that a future revision will incorporate rail focused transport as an integral part of an enhanced Local Plan for West Oxfordshire."

Mr Fantato later added: “The plan dealt with the fundamentals, like where we build new houses. It didn’t address any of the complexities of an integrated transport infrastructure.

“A rail link wasn’t mentioned, even on a superficial level.

“We need plans for transport as well as housing, otherwise it’ll be worse than gridlock."

The document includes plans for almost 2,000 homes near Witney and 3,200 on land around Eynsham, but the nearest station for commuters in these areas is Hanborough, which has just one platform.

Earlier this year, Witney MP Robert Courts led a Parliamentary debate on improvements to the Cotswold Line, calling for a second track to be added to increase frequency.

Tony Bovey, of Eynsham Planning Improvement Campaign (EPIC), which has fought against the plans for land around Eynsham, agreed improvements were needed.

He said: “It’s quite important that we have an early review as we have to get the infrastructure in place before we have more development.

“Hanborough station will become increasingly important for a sustainable link into Oxford but the facilities need significant improvement and a big increase in services.”

Mr Mills said he thought it was likely the council would wait for other policy documents to be completed before reviewing the local plan.

These include the Joint Statutory Spatial Plan (JSSP), a cross-council document to identify the number of new market and affordable homes, the level of economic growth and related infrastructure that is needed across Oxfordshire.

At present the published date within the scoping document for the JSSP is March 2021.

Mr Mills also mentioned a refresh of Oxfordshire County Council's Local Transport Plan, which will take a new look at a transport vision, goals and objectives for the county.

He pointed to work already undergone by the council to improve rail links in West Oxfordshire and suggested the issue would be tackled in a future local plan

He said: "We are already working towards improving the North Cotswold Railway and as a district council have invested in Hanborough Station.

"Personally, I am always open to ideas that might help bring a rail link between RAF Brize Norton and Oxford. This may well be something for a future plan.

"I know that the county council are looking to refresh their Oxfordshire transport plan as part of the recent deal with government."