AN MP has demanded answers from Oxfordshire County Council about where money to fund cycling improvements is coming from after the council lost out on half of an expected grant.

Last week, Oxfordshire County Council found out it was only receiving £298,500 of an expected £597,000 from a government grant to help promote cycling and walking in the county as lockdown lifts.

In an email to the council seen by the Oxford Mail, the Department for Transport, which was giving out the money, said: “We... noted that a number of measures were around maintenance of existing lanes and repainting of existing cycle lanes which is not the primary purpose of the fund.”

The council has said it would honour all of its planned emergency transport spending across the county by making up the extra £300,000 from its existing budget.

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It had already started carrying out work on roads, including building new bike parking in Oxford and the county’s market towns.

Now Layla Moran, the Lib Dem MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, has written to county council leader Ian Hudspeth to ask where that money is coming from, and to express her ‘deep disappointment’ about the county having lost out on the full grant.

In a letter shown exclusively to the Oxford Mail, Ms Moran also asked the council leader to take more notice of the views of councillors and cycling groups in the county.

In June, a group of ‘cycling champions’ had warned Oxfordshire might miss out on some of the funding because of how it planned to spend the money.

Witney Gazette:

Layla Moran's letter. Picture: Layla Moran

The Lib Dem MPs letter said: “Please can I have your assurance that the County and District Council Cycling Champions and the various cycling groups within the county will be fully involved in the development of the bid for the second phase, and that they will see the bid before it is submitted this time?”

All 61 county councillors were asked for their opinions on how the funding should be spent in a consultation before work began.

The county council’s ruling Conservative group had stressed that it wanted the funding to be spread out across the rural areas of Oxfordshire equitably, as well as paying for schemes in the city.

But council cabinet member for the environment and transport Yvonne Constance previously noted that deciding to spend the free cash in rural areas had led to the loss in funding.

The nearly £600,000 of works was split roughly into thirds, with one third going to Oxford, one third allocated to South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse district areas, and the final third allocated to Cherwell and West Oxfordshire districts.

READ AGAIN about when the council found out it had missed out on the funding

Having lost out on half of the funding, a county council spokesman said the extra £300,000 would be covered by taking money which had been allocated in this year's budget for 'general sign cleaning and associated vegetation clearance' and using it to pay for cutting grass verges and repainting signs specifically around cycle paths.

The county council is currently making a bid for a second larger pot of money from the DfT worth £2.3m which will pay for long term larger travel plans, which could including pedestrianising Broad Street.

A separate pot of money provided by Oxford City Council is going to pay for new bus gates.

These will stop drivers from using three city centre roads by fining them, and will effectively ban all private cars from the middle of Oxford during peak times.

The full letter from Layla Moran to Ian Hudpseth

3 July 2020

Dear Ian,

I am writing to express my deep disappointment at the fact that Oxfordshire has lost out on £300,000 of Government funding for walking and cycling infrastructure, all because the plans submitted by the County Council were not ambitious enough.

This emergency funding from the Government presented us with a golden opportunity to make a positive from this pandemic, to address the climate emergency and help more people in our community to get out of their cars and travel sustainably.

The guidance from Government was clear, and cycling and pedestrian groups raised their concerns with you and your colleagues, urging you to be more ambitious before it was too late. Cllr Dan Levy, the Liberal Democrat cycling champion for West Oxfordshire District Council, pointed this out.

Unfortunately, the council has failed to listen.

I would now urge you to change the way the County Council engages with these groups; it’s important to listen to those in our community who are trying to help make Oxfordshire a greener place.

I recognise that Cllr Constance has said the projects will still go ahead, but that the money will have to be found from elsewhere in the council’s budget.

Could you please inform me where the £300,000 will be reallocated from? It is important that we can understand the impact of this development.

Please can I have your assurance that the County and District Council Cycling Champions and the various cycling groups within the county will be fully involved in the development of the bid for the second phase, and that they will see the bid before it is submitted this time?

I know you agree with me that sustainable transport infrastructure is absolutely vital. However, if the council cannot listen to those outside its party-political group on these matters, I fear that more mistakes will be made. Now’s the time to listen and work together.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Layla Moran MP

Member of Parliament for Oxford West and Abingdon