As the Public Inquiry into Phase 2 of East West Rail begins today in Milton Keynes I have been looking at the latest station usage data. Estimates of Station Usage for 2017-18, for all stations in Great Britain, were published by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) in December 2018. There were almost 2 million entries and exits at Bicester Village station representing 51% increase in usage compared with the previous year. East West Rail Phase 1 was completed in December 2016 and the latest estimates include the first full year’s data for Chiltern Railways’ Oxford to Marylebone train service.
Annual Estimates of Station Usage – data from orr.gov.uk
Change since 2016-17
Nationally, usage was flat while the general trend across the south east was down. Several years of above average fare increases are now clearly having an impact. Yet on the Chiltern route, Banbury, Leamington Spa, Warwick, Warwick Parkway, Solihull and High Wycombe all showed small increases. Bicester North showed a 14% drop in usage while Birmingham Moor Street and Snow Hill also saw small decreases. On the North Cotswolds line and other routes into Oxford usage also fell.
It is clear that most of the 1.35 million increase at Oxford will be due to commuting on the new Chiltern service, particularly from Bicester. The 14-minute journey is attractive compared with the congested A34. While Oxford will have seem some growth from further afield, opening of the new Westgate shopping centre will also be a factor.
Locally there has also been some abstraction from Bicester North to Bicester Village. Despite the more limited car parking facilities, the train service between Bicester Village and Marylebone is now clearly preferred. And commuting to Oxford looks set to grow further when the service increases to 5tph from Bicester with EWR Phase 2 from 2023. Back in 2007-08 the equivalent figures for Bicester Town and Bicester North were 52,000 and 911,000 – how things have changed in 10 years…
We’re delighted, and might even say ‘floored’, that funds needed for major improvement work at Langford Village Community Hall have been secured more quickly than we’d dared hope. Thanks to some fantastic support a brand new Karndean surface has now been laid, replacing the twenty-five-year-old original flooring that had served us well since the Hall first opened in early 1994.
The Langford Village Community Association (LVCA) had appealed to supporters at the beginning of 2018 knowing that it would take a major effort to raise the large amount that was needed. Excitingly, and in just over six months, a total of £12,000 was made ready to ensure the work could go ahead and the new floor was installed in September.
Now the many local groups and organisations that use Langford Village Community Hall are reporting how much they’re enjoying using the improved facility and passing on their thanks that the improvement has been made possible.The funds needed were raised in a number of ways. For example, the support of local residents who put tokens in the Tesco ‘Bags of Help’ boxes helped secure a £2,000 donation from the supermarket. Donations were also made by the Doris Field Trust, Bicester Parkrun and via the Nightingale pub, which backed a special quiz night to help.
Both Cherwell District Council and Bicester Town Council gave financial grants and the LVCA used some of the funds it had built up through hiring out the hall.
Carole Hetherington, the chair of the LVCA, says, “It was really terrific to see our appeal getting such a fast and positive response and we’d like to give a big thanks to all who’ve supported us. We’re very proud of the new floor and will be taking great care to ensure this one also serves local residents for a good quarter of a century”.
The LVCA also wishes to thank Manor Flooring for their help and professionalism in laying the floor and for giving a discount, which also helped ensure the work could go ahead swiftly.
Users of the Hall may have noticed the yellow box situated on the wall to left of the entrance to the Langford Village Community Centre. This contains an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). An AED is a sophisticated yet easy-to-use device that could save a life.
Sudden cardiac arrest is a leading cause of premature death. It occurs because the normal electrical rhythm that controls the heart is replaced by a chaotic disorganised electrical rhythm – ventricular fibrillation (VF).
The quicker VF can be treated by defibrillation, the greater the chance of successful resuscitation. Every second counts as unfortunately the ambulance service is unlikely to arrive quickly enough to resuscitate most victims.
An AED delivers a high energy electric shock to a victim in sudden cardiac arrest to restore the heart’s normal rhythm. The AED analyses the victim’s heart rhythm precisely and will only deliver a shock if it is required.
Many victims of sudden cardiac arrest can be saved if persons nearby recognise what has happened, dial 999 to summon the ambulance service without delay, perform Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and use an AED.
Click below to watch our short video explaining how residents can use the AED at Langford Village Community Centre.
The East West Rail scheme should be good news for Bicester overall. However, as residents will be aware, Network Rail have ignored the London Road level crossing in all of their consultations for Phase 2 of the scheme (EWR2). Officially the position of Network Rail and local councillors is that there are no plans to close the crossing.
When the line through to Bletchley, Milton Keynes and Bedford reopens from 2023 it will result in at least 3x as many trains running (with the prospect of more to come in future).
Whether or not the road is actually closed, when the crossing is closed for 45 minutes in an hour (as seems likely) the net effect will be similiar. EWR2 significantly impacts on the level crossing, increasing congestion and effectively cutting off Langford Village from the town centre.
We have made it clear that simply closing the crossing (as many residents fear), or doing nothing is not an option. We and many others have been pushing for clarity on the issue. A solution is needed that will allow an accessible route into town to be maintained whilst removing the conflict between road and rail at the level crossing.
The LVCA is objecting to the EWR2 scheme not just because of the lack of a solution at London Road but also due to the lack of electrification.
Network Rail say in their statement of case to the forthcoming Public Inquiry that “the extended closure times are comparable to other busy level crossings around the UK which are considered to operate safely”. Some improvements to signalling are planned to be implemented as part of EWR2 which could reduce the cumulative barrier down time by 25-40 minutes per 24 hour period – i.e. up to 2 minutes per hour could be saved. These improvements could be implemented by 2022.
However, I will be pointing out that running just one extra train each hour wipes out any time savings. We already know there will be more trains than originally planned; building 1 million houses in the region will surely mean even more trains, and the railway through Bicester already has the capacity to handle more trains – both passenger and freight.
Network Rail say they are “committed to working with Oxfordshire County Council (as the Highways Authority) to secure a permanent road solution (overbridge or underpass) for London Road Level Crossing”.
As I have said, such a solution appears not to be funded. And as was posted on this site in 2017 a replacement bridge or tunnel at London Road could cost more than £60 million. The cost is no doubt considerably more than it would have been, had it been implemented in 2015. Yet if a solution is delayed beyond 2023 the cost will sky-rocket.
Whilst no announcement on funding was forthcoming in the Budget on 29 October, it does seem that things could be moving forwards at last and the elephant in the room is not going to be ignored. Getting it right first time is often the best and most cost effective way.
At the AGM I gave an update on the proposed Expressway between Cambridge and Oxford. This new type of ‘smart’ expressway will feel more like a motorway with signage on a blue background and some ‘Smart’ motorway features. It will have emergency refuge areas, a variable speed limit, active traffic management but no hard shoulder.
In November 2017, the National Infrastructure Commission published its report “Partnering for Prosperity” which talks about designing transport to unlock major housing growth. The report says that for the arc from Oxford to Cambridge to maximise its economic potential… “current rates of house building will need to double – delivering up to one million new homes by 2050″
Opportunities for growth include expansion of Milton Keynes to a population of 500,000 and development between Bicester and Bletchley, unlocked through the combination of East West Rail and the Expressway, with the potential to grow to city-scale.
Key to this Expressway is closing a 30 mile gap in the national strategic road network between the M1 at Milton Keynes and the M40. On 12 September 2018, the Government announced the preferred corridor for the Expressway from the M1 at Junction 13. It would broadly follow the route of East West Rail via Winslow and likely pass south of Bicester to the M40 and continue eventually to Oxford and Abingdon.
The preferred route could be announced in 2020 – the first time the public get to have a say. The Expressway could cost £3.5bn and open by 2030.
It strikes me that there is no debate and no joined-up thinking on whether this motorway-on-the-cheap is a good idea, let alone whether a million homes is even feasible. Are there enough water resources to support another 2.4 million people regionally? Another 300,000 homes in Oxfordshire in the space of 30 years would more than double the existing housing stock, built up over hundreds of years! Councils have already been asked where they might put these extra houses. Local Wildlife Trusts say that the corridor selected is possibly the worst option and have launched a Judicial Review. Covering the countryside in concrete could be a catastrophe.
Earlier this year, Bicester Round Table received a request from 1st Langford Village Scout Group to help support them in raising funds to replace their old tents. We put it to the vote of our members, and our Community Services Officer, Dan Cooper, was pleased to offer the scouts our full support. Dan said, “It was fantastic to be able to support the scout group who do so much great work with young people.” Members of the Round Table met with the cubs to hand over six tents and, of course, have our photograph taken.
Scout Leader Simon Thompson said, “Our existing tents are nearing the end of their natural lives, and these six new tents, generously donated by Bicester Round Table, will allow us to continue offering our Beavers, Cubs and Scouts the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. Camping teaches our youngsters independence, self-reliance and skills they never knew they had – skills they can utilise well into their adult life and within the wider community.”
Bicester Round Table is a voluntary organisation for men aged 18–45 who get involved in community support and charity work, and we always welcome new members. The organisation was set up in Bicester in 1959 and is still going strong, with 14 members from a variety of backgrounds, all of whom live in Bicester – though we currently only have three members from Langford Village itself. We meet on Monday evenings, twice a month for social meetings which include a variety of activities, from brewery tours to riot training with Northants Police!
We have raised money this year by running the Party in the Park, and are now looking forward to our bonfire and fireworks night on Saturday 4th November. We also take Santa around the streets of Bicester every Christmas (although it’s actually Bicester Lions who help Santa when he visits Langford Village, rather than us). Proceeds from all donations to Bicester Round Table are used to support local people. None of the work we do would be possible without the generosity of the local community.